Health & LifestyleOpinion

It’s crucial to illuminate the challenges encountered by individuals on the autism spectrum within our educational institutions, workplaces & communities

On World Autism Awareness Day, recognized every 2nd of April since its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2007, it is crucial to illuminate the challenges encountered by individuals on the autism spectrum within our educational institutions, workplaces, and communities. This day serves not only as an opportunity to raise awareness but also to celebrate the uniqueness of those on the spectrum and acknowledge their valuable contributions to society.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as defined by the National Institutes of Health, presents as a neurological and developmental disorder affecting communication, social interaction, learning, and behavior. The World Health Organization reports that 1 in 100 children worldwide is affected by autism, with varying degrees of severity; while some can lead independent lives, others require ongoing care and support. Recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US shows a rise in ASD cases, underscoring the importance of understanding and addressing this issue.

In Ghana, estimating the prevalence of ASD poses challenges due to limited data and research capacity. However, anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in identified cases over the years, highlighting the need for greater attention and support in this area.

In line with this year’s theme, ‘Moving from Surviving to Thriving’, efforts should be concentrated on providing comprehensive support to individuals on the spectrum.
Focusing on the following key areas will propel us toward the inclusive society we aspire to achieve:

Policy: Collaborative efforts are essential in developing inclusive policies covering education, healthcare, and employment for neurodivergent individuals. This includes mandatory training for educators to identify signs of autism, certification programs for professionals in intervention techniques, and ensuring adequate support in early childhood development centers and schools.

Financial Support: Access to necessary interventions such as speech and behavioral therapy should be made more affordable through subsidies from the National Health Insurance Scheme and partnerships with public, private, and non-profit organizations to provide financial assistance to affected families.

Awareness: Engaging community stakeholders, including religious and traditional leaders, can help promote acceptance and understanding of ASD.
Establishing community-based programs in local languages and cultural settings will enhance awareness and foster inclusivity.

Social Support: Establishing support groups and community initiatives will provide much-needed assistance to parents and caregivers, fostering a supportive environment for neurodivergent individuals.

In conclusion, drawing from valuable insights from research on Autism in Africa, it is imperative to invest in culturally relevant interventions, foster collaboration among stakeholders, and establish national databases to collect data and evaluate outcomes effectively.

Let us reaffirm our commitment to creating a society that embraces and supports neurodiversity, ensuring equal opportunities for all to thrive and contribute to the progress
of our nation.

Dakoa Newman
Member of Parliament – Okaikwei South Constituency

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