The Buddha statue in Kuenselphodrang was illuminated in neon light to observe World Autism Awareness Day yesterday evening.

Officials from Ability Bhutan Society (ABS), parents of children afflicted by autism and stakeholders, including teachers of Changangkha Middle Secondary School, marked the ‘Light it up Blue’ occasion at 6:30pm.

The executive director for ABS, Beda Giri, said 82 children in the country are diagnosed with autism and they are receiving support from ABS and enrolled in schools.

A press release from ABS stated that the World Autism Day resolution encourages all member states to take measures to raise awareness about autism and encourage early diagnosis and early intervention.

Beda Giri said that the main issue in the country as of today is diagnosis, as Bhutan lacks capacity. “With all the available technical and human resources, we are doing all we can,” she said. “We have our own share of concerns and problems as any society everywhere.”

World Autism Day was recognised by the UN in 2007 and it is intended to raise the world’s awareness on autism.

The press release states that the day is observed every year to create awareness about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is one of the common disabilities in children. “Bhutan observed the day since 2013 as per the Royal Command.”

It states that most people in the country are not aware of the term ‘autism’ and those children diagnosed with autism are brought to the paediatric out patient department or paediatric physiotherapy unit and referred to ABS following delay in language concerns.

The press release also states that most autistic children come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the term remains new to parents, making it difficult to understand the disability.

It also states that many children suffering from autism are not in school. “There are children who benefit from speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and behavioural interventions.

The press release also states that people with disabilities and their families still face stigma in the community because of lack of awareness. “Every child deserves support in accessing meaningful curriculum and becoming a productive member of society.”

An observer, Karma, who attended the awareness programme said it is important to observe the day since most people are not aware of the disability and they keep their children at home instead of seeking help. “It is important for parents to accept that autism is like any other disability and seeking timely intervention would help the children.”

Meanwhile, the participants also lit butter lamps at the Memorial Choeten.

Tashi Dema