Autism and the Difficulties of the Autistic Society in Iran
I first came to know autism when I decided to write my MA thesis in Linguistics on the speech disorders of the autistic children, and as a result entered their society through research. During my presence at special schools for autistic children in the two cities of Shiraz and Mashhad in Iran, I came to know about the shortcomings from which they were suffering both at school and home. Since there is not much public information about the autistic children and their difficulties in Iran, I thought it would be informative for the public to know about some of my experiences with these children and their difficulties so that due attention could be paid to them.
What is Autism?
Autism is a complex, multi-faceted disorder which affects neurodevelopment during the early stages of life and for many lingers throughout adulthood. Inherent features, to name but a few, include difﬁculties or deﬁcits in communication, social interaction and cognition, and person-to-person behavioral coordination and recall. Autism impacts the affected individual, his/her family, and in some cases the localized community. Among the factor that can contribute to autism are heredity and genetics as well as biological, biochemical, and environmental factors such as air pollution, use of certain medicines, nicotine and alcohol during pregnancy, and also exposing of the children to these damaging factors during the early stages of their lives.
In order that the autistic children’s speech and communication, social interaction and cognition, and person-to-person behavioral coordination be improved, they need improving measures such as speech pathology, occupational therapy, play therapy, music therapy, art therapy and medical therapy; treatments that can be undertaken together or individually at public or private school and clinics. All of these methods can increase the children’s power of communication, improve their social behavior, and boost their self-confidence. These therapies can also help autistic children make safe and helpful contact with their therapist as well as with other people.
The autistic children in Iran are only partially supported by the government and society. There are no “foundations for special diseases and disorders” allocated to these children. As a result, the autistic children in Iran are rarely provided with the necessary facilities for their therapy and improvement, whether at school or home. I will enumerate some of the shortcomings with regard to the care for and improvement of the autistic children in Iran in the following.
Speech pathology studies the nature of language and speech disorders, and also develops the methods of diagnosis and therapy for these disorders. Autistic children need the services of a speech pathologist, but there are not enough therapeutic sessions for them at school. In order to improve their speech and language, they need to attend about three or four therapeutic sessions per week given the severity or weakness of their speech and language disorders. However, they are only given a twenty-minute session per week. As a consequence, their speech will not improve.
Occupational therapy is a method of skillful therapy which helps damaged people regain or obtain their basic mental and physical abilities such as use of hands for the different activities of everyday life. The occupational therapist helps autistic children to improve some of their skills such as writing, putting their clothes on, moving around safely in society, communicating with other people, and a host of other personal and social skills. Although occupational therapy is important for autistic children, there aren’t enough therapeutic sessions for them at school; and it is to be mentioned that at some schools there is no occupational therapist at all.
As well as being one of the effective methods for the child’s mental/social development and evolution, playing is an efficient method for curing a number of mental disorders in children. Using playing methods in order to cure the mental disorders of the child is called play therapy. In this method, a playing situation is employed to make contact with autistic children so that they can release their hysteria and make emotional and intellectual contact with their instructor. But play therapy, as a therapeutic method, follows a set of specific principles without the consideration of which it won’t be effective. The games that are typically used in this kind of therapy need special safe rooms and specialized instructors. However, the rooms that are allocated to play therapy at most schools in Iran aren’t safe and suitable; and neither is the time allocated to each autistic child enough for their improvement.
Music therapy is a highly effective method for the improvement of the speech of autistic children who typically demonstrate weak or severe deficiencies in their verbal behavior. Music therapy can in a systematic way improve the speaking abilities of the autistic child. Music can specially be helpful in curing the autistic children’s auditory problems because it strengthens their auditory comprehension. Nevertheless, in the schools that I visited there weren’t any programs for music therapy, due to two reasons: first, there is no budget allocated for such kind of a treatment; second, there are few therapists specialized in this field in Iran.
Art therapy is one of the most successful methods for curing autistic children all over the world. As it activates the emotional and communicative sensors of autistic children, art therapy is generally useful for the improvement of their five senses, specially their visual sense. But again, like music therapy, there is a shortage – or even lack – of budget and specialists for this method of therapy at schools in Iran.
Although there is yet no special medication for curing autism, specialists usually use specific medicines in order to relieve the autistic children of their seizures, temporary periods of unconsciousness, body convulsions, unusual movements, or staring spells. If autistic children don’t receive that kind of medication, it can cause severe seizures in them. Most of the medicines used for this purpose, which are also used for other mental disorders with similar symptoms, are special and expensive. As a result, it is difficult and sometimes even impossible for most of the autistic children’s families – who are usually from the lower ranks of society and have economic shortcomings – to provide them with the necessary medication.
Economic Problems of the Autistic Children’s Families
The majority of the therapeutic methods that I mentioned in this article are expensive. While the families of the autistic children, like any other families, are classified in the three levels of “poor, ordinary, and rich”, most of the families that I came to know proved to be poor. Consequently, these families can’t even provide their children with their most vital necessities such as nourishment, clothing and stationery. This economic disability prevents these families from having access to the better services of the private centers for autistic children. As the facilities and programs in public schools in Iran prove inadequate and insufficient, autistic children never get any appropriate cure and training, and therefore always remain disabled.
Autistic children are not necessarily devoid of any ability. While it is not advisable for the parents of autistic children to expect their kids to be on the same level of learning with an ordinary kid, it is a fact that autistic children have special talents that can be utilized in order to improve their general condition. For instance, most autistic children have a special talent in art, and if this talent is improved in them, they can even be better artists than a typical child. However, this is impossible unless necessary and sufficient facilities are provided for these children, both at school and home. By improving their talents, autistic children can have better lives both as individuals and members of society. Helping these children will release them from the prison in the making of which they themselves had no hand.