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Signs that a child has special needs first appear early on. The international conference on autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, while highlighting the efforts being made, revealed that there is much more to be done at this developmental stage of a child’s life.

Experts say that there is an urgent need for awareness, especially among parents, health and education professionals so that causes that impair personal, social, academic, or occupational functioning could be diagnosed early and treatments provided at the right time.

The prevalence of any disability in Bhutanese children in at least one functional domain was found to be 21 percent among children of 2-9 years with cognitive disability to be the highest.  Between 2012 and 2016, the developmental clinic at JDWNRH has attended to 139 children with neurodevelopmental disorder.

These figures may not tell us the whys and hows of the disability’s prevalence but it suggest that there could be more children growing with neurological disorders across the country who could be missing out on the interventions provided in the capital and on a chance to grow into productive citizens.

For a country that has been commended for its healthcare services, initiating a study to provide answers to understand disorders that affect the country’s most vulnerable, its children, should be a priority.

Bhutan already has support from the highest levels in addressing autism and neurological disorders. Measures are taken to remove stigma and promote social inclusiveness. The special significance of Thimphu declaration yesterday was that we made commitments to integrate the needs of people with special needs.

The health ministry must take the lead to strengthen these efforts, expand its services to the regional and district hospitals, and call on the society to work with civil society organisations to help raise awareness.

The ministry has done well in creating awareness on lifestyle diseases and other ailments that affect the wellbeing of the people. We can do more, especially for children with special needs.

For Bhutan, its children are more than mere statistics. Meeting the needs of its differently-abled children need special attention.

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