Gaps in the services provided is one of the major barriers in attending to differently abled persons in the countries today, panelists at the international conference on autism and neurodevelopmental disorders pointed out.

In response to a question on major barriers in providing standard autism treatment in low and developing income countries, Indrani Basu, a special educator specialised in autism said there is still a lot of disagreements on the standard treatment for autism. She said the gap is especially wide in urban areas and district levels.

During a panel discussion on community-based models for delivering interventions to individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families yesterday, Indrani Basu said that the difference in the services provided to persons with autism not only differs in urban and rural areas, but also varies in the services provided in the city.

The Head of Department of Pediatrics at the Thimphu referral hospital, Dr Mimi Lhamu said cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, autism and ADHD are some of the common neurodevelopmental disorders in the country. “Learning disability and learning disorders often go undiagnosed,” she said.

She said that currently Ability Bhutan Society and Pediatric Physiotherapy unit at the national referral hospital provide services for children with ASD living in Thimphu and the challenge remains in providing similar services in other parts of the country.

“The challenges we face are lack of trained human resources in providing care for children with ASD and delay in seeking access to health care due to lack of awareness on ASD,” Dr Mimi Lhamu said.

She also pointed out that its even more difficult for illiterate parents of children with ASD and NDDs especially those living outside Thimphu as they face the challenges of travelling to the national referral hospital with the child. The pediatrics department has parents coming from all over the country.

She said that the department shares guide resources related to the ASD and NDDs with the literate parents.

Indrani Basu said that the other issue regarding the gap is that there are many who want to do something on early intervention.  But, she said that when a person with autism gets older and the kind of need and support he or she has changes, the services becomes less effective.

She said that at times the only option for an autistic child is a special school but communities and cities do not have enough special schools. “Even though all these movements are crucial, schools are still not ready and don’t have enough capacity to take in children with disability, especially autism,” she said.

Bhutan also faces similar challenges. Dr Mimi said that in Bhutan, children with autism and special needs are enrolled in SEN (special educational needs) schools that are present all over the country. However, for children less than six years, there are no similar facilities to take care of children with special needs.

She also pointed out that the actual prevalence of autism in the country is not known. “Current figures would be falsely low because of lack of awareness and early diagnosis,” she said adding that there is a need to work on raising awareness among the people and health care workers on early identification and interventions for children with ASD and NDD in the country.

Dechen Tshomo