Jigmi Wangdi 

Karma (name changed) is a mother of a child with autism. Her son is 12 years old and is studying at the Special Education Needs (SEN) or inclusive school in Changangkha Lower Secondary School (CLSS).

Karma like all parents wants the best for her son and his future. But as a child with a neurological disability, her son is not able to cope in a regular classroom like other children.

The inclusive school in CLSS is the only place where he can receive an education.

Karma said that children studying in inclusive schools transition out of school after turning 14.

“I feel that 14 years of age is not old enough for our children. Especially children with autism because they cannot learn or become independent at the same pace as others,” she said.

She shared that the CLSS administration has extended the age of transition to 16 years of age.

“As a parent who has been looking after a child with autism, this age is still not enough. We hope that it can be extended until the child reaches 20, and be able to graduate with a Class X certificate,” Karma said.

Another mother with a son who has autism shared her views. They said that if their children could study further, it could help them pursue vocational training later on.

“I am always worried about how my son will be able to survive on his own if I am not there in future,” Choden said.

Most children with disabilities transition to other schools or institutions similar to the Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children and Youth in Thimphu. However, the mothers said that they cannot send their sons there.

“Draktsho is the school most children with disabilities go to. But we cannot send our sons there because they have autism and this means they need extra attention. They are easily scared. My son can’t even stay in the dark as it scares him,” one of them said.

Aum Karma said that Draktsho tries to make the child independent by giving them vocational training and skills.

“I have been looking after my son for 12 years now. It is hard for me to comprehend that any school or institution can make him independent in a short time, considering that I have been trying to do the same for all these years,” said Karma.

Mothers said that children with autism are generally good at what other children their age are not.

“Our children cannot do ordinary tasks like tying their shoelaces, getting dressed, etc. but they are very skilled in mathematics, art and using technological appliances like computers,” a mother said.

According to the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities 2019, section 7.1.2 under access to education states, “The RGoB shall develop strategies to make reasonable accommodation within existing educational infrastructure, and incorporate universal designs in new educational infrastructure.”

However, there seems to be a lack of implementation in this area from the government’s side.

An official from the ECCD and SEN Division under the Department of School Education said that children with disabilities graduate from schools depending on their learning programme.

“If the child takes the general curriculum with just minor accommodations, they can complete school just like other students. If the child takes a functional curriculum or Life Skills programme, the school years are based on the programme designed according to the child’s abilities and needs,” the official shared.

The official said that extending the age of transition will depend upon the Individualised Educational Plan developed with the teachers, and facilities at the school and on the recommendation of the Special Educational Needs team.

The official added that compulsory pre-service training at Colleges of Education is being done to address the need for more SEN-related teachers in inclusive schools.

In the meantime, parents of children with autism wait for some positive news.

“Every disability is not the same, each child with a disability requires a different approach to education,” they said.