PV Desk : Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today described the people with autism as an integral part of society, calling upon all to stand beside them to unfold their hidden talents.
“Don’t neglect the people with autism … they are an integral part of our society,” she told the inaugural function of the 11th World Autism Awareness Day at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre here this morning.
The prime minister mentioned that they have numerous talents which are absent among the many people with sound health. “We’ll have to create a scope for them to flourish those talents,” she added.
The Ministry of Social Affairs arranged the function with Social Affairs Minister Rashed Khan Menon in the chair.
Health Minister Mohammad Nasim, State Minister for Social Affairs Nuruzzaman Ahmed and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Affairs Dr Mozammel Hossain also spoke as the special guests, while Social Affairs Secretary Zillar Rahman delivered the welcome address.
On behalf of the children with autism, Isaba Hafiz Sushmi, a class nine student of a school in the capital, also addressed the function.
The day is being observed in the country as elsewhere across the globe with the theme –“Empowering Women and Girls with Autism”.
The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared April 2 as the World Autism Awareness Day to highlight the needs to help improve the lives of children and adults who suffer from the disorder.
At the function, Sheikh Hasina handed over awards to three children with autism in recognition of their contributions to different fields and some individuals and organisations for their role in building awareness about autism.
Pointing out that autism is not a birth defect, the prime minister said the Almighty Allah has created human beings in different ways. “So it’s not proper to treat the people with autism in the eyes of negligence … building up social awareness about this is very much needed,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the people will have to change their mindset in this regard. “They’ll have to be more sensitive and sympathetic towards the people with autism … they’ll have to take them close through love and affection,” she said.
The prime minister expressed her firm belief that the people with autism spectrum disorder will bring immense potentials by becoming self-reliant if they get coordinated initiatives and favourable environment. “So, let’s come to stand beside the children and other persons with autism,” she said.
The premier said the autism is now not a new issue in society as the number of people with autism is increasing day by day. “Our government has been implementing special programmes on the children and persons with autism,” she said.
Referring to the speech of Isaba Hafiz Sushmi in which she apprehended that whether she can sit for SSC exams, Sheikh Hasina categorically said that she (Sushmi) must appear in the examinations.
In this connection, the premier said arrangements for extra time have been made in the public examinations for the students with disabilities so they can take part in the examinations properly.
Putting emphasis on inclusive education for the children with disabilities, the prime minister said they should be given scope to pursue study with the general students.
Quoting Isaba that she (Isaba) was not allowed enrolling to a school due to her disability, the premier said “But it’s not right … they must be enrolled to general school.”
Sheikh Hasina said the tender-hearted children with autism disorder could be turned into a “valuable asset” if they are given special care by keeping their special demands in mind.
The premier said: “We cannot keep the people with disabilities or autism away and the negative attitude of the society towards them is a big obstacle to this end.”
Due to this outlook, she said, the people with disabilities become victims of disparity and ignorance from the beginning of their life. This mindset will have to be changed through creating mass awareness, she opined.
Sheikh Hasina, who herself also offered great patronage to autism, said the issue was completely unknown and unattended in Bangladesh. With Saima Wazed taking the lead, she said, the importance and awareness about autism have increased nationally and internationally.
The premier said Saima Wazed got the recognition of Autism Champion of South Asia of the World Health Organisation for her special contributions to autism awareness and public health.
Referring to a resolution adopted in the United Nation General Assembly unanimously, she said Saima had a very strong and active role in this regard.
She said Saima has been brightening Bangladesh’s image in the international arena as the president of an international jury board and as a member of the World Health Organisation’s Expert Advisory Panel on Mental Health.
Elaborating various efforts of her government for the welfare of the autistic children, the prime minister said Bangladesh earned great independence under the charismatic leadership of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
She said the constitution of the country framed by Bangabandhu ensured equal rights and dignity and social justice for all and it has a very clear stance against showing any difference with any citizen.
“Keeping this in mind, her government has been working to flourish latent talents of the children with disabilities and autistic related problems, she said.
Sheikh Hasina said two laws — “The Persons with Disability Rights and Protection Trust Act, 2013” and “The Neurodevelopmental Disability Protection Act, 2013” — were passed in parliament to protect interests of the persons with disabilities.
Under the trust act, she said, a complex will be established where there will be arrangements for the children with disabilities so they can get services till their death.
She said many parents remain worried about the fate of their disabled children after their death. “Considering their anxiety, we’ve taken this initiative,” she said.
The prime minister said her government has constituted Suchona Foundation with Saima Wazed as its chairperson. “Our goal is to create awareness among the guardians, parents and other members of the society about autism,” she said.
Later, the prime minister witnessed a colourful cultural function performed by the children with disabilities.