Government officials said on Monday that parents and guardians have a better understanding of autism these days, resulting in more children with the disorder receiving proper schooling.
However, civil society organisations (CSOs) have raised concerns about a lack of resources as there are still too few qualified teachers to help educate the autistic.
Officials and CSOs met on Monday with guardians and approximately 100 autistic children at the National Workshop for Policy Recommendation and Methodology for Data Collection under the Autism Mapping Project in the Asean Region at Tonle Bassac II Restaurant in Phnom Penh.
Disability Action Council (DAC) secretary-general Em Chan Makara said awareness of autism had improved recently because parents and guardians have been able to seek professional support services and send their children to school to receive specialist education.
He said in the 2017-18 academic year, an estimated 55,000 children and youths with disabilities were enrolled at school. Despite not having accurate figures, Chan Makara estimated that some 5,000 of those were autistic.
“We will further collaborate with CSOs to support the sector by establishing special education classes to enable autistic children to receive full aptitude, skills and knowledge training so that they can be active in society without facing discrimination,” he said.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life due to a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication.
Children and adults with autism have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities – which makes it harder to relate to their surroundings. Generally, autistic children need extensive care.
Chan Sarin, Cambodian Intellectual Disability and Autism Network (Cidan) president, said autistic children were highly vulnerable when compared to people with other disabilities.
He said there is discrimination in every aspect of the community and parents may become depressed, particularly as their voices are often not heard.
However, he said over the last three years, the understanding of autism had increased following widespread publicity, as it is a new concept for Cambodia.
“Although there are more than 10 organisations working with autism, only two to three are really active. Resources are still lacking – the number of teachers who have studied it is still very small,” Sarin said.
While some 200 autistic children attend Cidan schools, he said, many more parents are seeking specialist educational services but, due to a lack of human resources, the organisation currently cannot accept any more children.
Therefore, he hopes that stakeholders, especially the government, will become more involved in addressing the human resource and funding deficits in order to properly address the situation.
Sdeung Chinda, a guardian of an autistic child, told The Post that initially, he did not know about autism and constantly worried about his child because he was different from other children.
But after receiving counselling and knowing that his son had a diagnosed disorder, he was able to be more constructive and found him a specialist school.
Chinda said his son now has a more normal life and gets a lot of good attention from his classmates.
“Because this is new for parents like us, we would like to ask for further publicity and more schools for these kids to help educate them. When I didn’t know about my son’s condition, I sent him to a normal school. But there were so many problems because they didn’t understand it,” he said.
Dr J Bhoomikumar at the Center for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (Caritas-CCAMH) said: “Families seeking help at our centre for language and social communication challenges among their children in the background of early exposure to hand-held electronic devices has increased significantly.”
Tuesday is World Autism Awareness Day and the Caritas-CCAMH team, during Autism Awareness week from Monday to Friday, has organised free consultations and workshops to highlight risk factors those with autism face.