An autistic boy in the classroom

Published: August 16, 2011

Last year, a child named Omer* was enrolled in the class that I taught, in a well-recognized school, in Lahore. His parents, however, failed to inform me about the crucial information that Omer had a developmental disorder. He was autistic.

The lack of this vital information resulted in confusion and stress, on my part, while dealing with Omer in a normal classroom learning environment – a fact that was equally painful to him. Often, due to his inability to follow regular instructions, he would sob hysterically with closed fists, tears streaming down his face, staring at me helplessly with pain stricken eyes.

With all my regular work responsibilities, the stress of handling Omer alone left me exhausted, weary and frustrated.

I was determined not to give up on Omer, however, after seeing the sad expressions on his mother’s worried face. She met me several times at parent teacher meetings with puzzled eyes and fear of hearing discouraging remarks about her child. She was an educated woman and was well aware of her child’s disability. In an attempt to not worry her I always offered positive remarks over my negative ones.

Some common symptoms of autism that I observed in Omer were:

1)      While communicating he was unable to start or maintain a conversation but performed repeated body movements and got upset at unusual change in routines.

2)      He memorized and repeated words (for example: from commercials) using senseless rhymes.

3)      He remained socially withdrawn and preferred to be alone. He did not make friends or play interactive games.

4)      He would hold his hands over his ears when he found normal noises painful.

5)      He was unable to imitate the actions of others and remained busy in his imaginative play.

6)      He had a short attention span and was aggressive.

Due to the child’s growing familiarity with me, I inadvertently started helping him. The only person Omer spoke to or looked at, in the entire school premises, was me!

By the end of the year, I managed to achieve the goal of Omer’s increased awareness of the discussions in the classroom, and a transformation from extreme aggressive behaviour to passive behaviour. His mother was grateful to me. However, I realize that had Omer* spent the year with a specialist catering to his autism, his development would have dwarfed that which he made with me.

Dealing with autistic children can be very stressful for parents, teachers, and the like. In Pakistani society, this is especially difficult, as most parents are reluctant to accept any form of unusual behavior on the part of their children. They often won’t agree to consult the necessary specialists catering to the learning and training needs of children with developmental disorders. They fear that their child might be labeled as ‘special’ (a term also used in Pakistan for children with developmental disorders).

By adopting this attitude, parents are setting themselves and their child up for sheer misery. They, in fact, are actually increasing the burden on their children by depriving them of the basic help they crucially need. This was true for Omer’s case as well.

According to a report, there are over 3 million autistic children and adults across Pakistan. There are, however, only a few Autism Resource Centers operating in different major cities of Pakistan.

Pakistan Autism Meetup Group, established since 2003, provides a chance for parents, doctors, and special educators to support each other, and to help create the necessary awareness of this condition across Pakistan.

Having faced the challenge of dealing with an autistic child for a full two terms, without any formal training, I would like to personally emphasize not only the need to create more institutions for the children with autism spectrum disorders, but also the need for our society to mature in its reaction towards those affected by autism, dyslexia and so on. Furthermore, it is absolutely vital to eradicate labels such as ‘abnormal’ or ‘special’. In doing so, parents will be able to develop a sense of belief and hope in their autistic children, and themselves. This belief and hope is a crucial first step in seeking a better life for autistic families.

*Name has been changed.

Sybil.daniel

Sybil Daniel

A Lahore based teacher interested in human rights

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Murtaza Ali Khan

    I wish Omer to have a good life ahead of him and may God give him strength to overcome his weakness.
    On a lighter note, this is ‘Taare Zameen Par’ IRL.Recommend

  • sara

    thanks for talking about it but ET no proof reading??

    “He remained socially withdrawn and preferred to be alone. He did not make friends or plays interactive games.”Recommend

  • KolachiMom

    You are absolutely right. More awareness is needed. Recommend

  • Faria Syed

    Thanks Sara – they typo has been corrected.
    Faria
    (Web desk)

    Recommend

  • swa

    it is a pity that in our society such children are a shame to their parents so they hide their disabilities from the society..as they dont want to be mocked… GOD FORBID “professional help” is a big stigma on any DECENT family’s name… it is a sad sad situationRecommend

  • Sonia

    Oasis in Raiwind remains the only school to deal with autistic children. They only have 10 kids so far. You need to tell Omer’s mom about it.
    http://tribune.com.pk/story/142495/special-needs-oasis-for-autistic-children/Recommend

  • Rafi

    Sybil, it is obvious that you care about the children (and their parents) you teach. You have done very well in bringing a positive change in Omer without having any warning of his autism or indeed formal training on dealing with autism.
    Further, you have taken the trouble to raise peoples’ awareness through this article.
    I salute your efforts.Recommend

  • http://www.autismpakistan.org Qazi Fazli Azeem

    Thank you for the Awareness efforts. Autism education requires special training – Applied Behaviour Analysis, TEACHH, RDI/Floortime, Sensory Integration, Occupational Theraphy, Speech Theraphy and a customized learning plan, since no 2 children with autism are exactly alike. The Pakistan Autism Meetup group’s online forum contains thousands of pages of posts and advice that I have posted there, as well as recommendations gives by parents, special educators and doctors, most who have access to special education in US, UK and Canada.

    Qazi Fazli Azeem
    South Asia’s first and only Autism awareness activist and self-advocate
    http://www.autismpakistan.org

    search my name on youtube.com to see my tv interviews on Autism AwarenessRecommend

  • imtiaz

    thumbs up.Recommend

  • T IMM

    @Sonia: If they have only 10 kids so far that means people don’t know more about that school.
    School Principle Samrina Should take more steps and advertise our Oasis . M really shocking that strength is too short rite now…Recommend

  • T IMM

    Excellant job .Do some more efforts …Recommend

  • Becky

    How lucky that this boy had you as a caring teacher!! Too often our kids are misunderstood as being naughty, and teachers respond as such.Recommend

  • Ahmad Bilal

    “Temple Grandin (2010)” is a good movie. It’s a true story of an autistic child and how she overcame her difficulties. She holds a doctorate degree, and a specialist on the subject (autism).
    http://www.templegrandin.com/ is her website. Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world. You can get a lot of information from her website about the subject.
    Hope it may help.Recommend

  • http://www.nowpdp.org/ Jeremy Higgs

    There is a distinct lack of awareness on the part of parents and teachers about disability, which the author has rightly pointed out is linked to the stigma attached to any disability.

    I’d like to point out that there is an online resource (disclaimer: developed by NOWPDP, my employer) for the families of people with disabilities, which provides information on educational institutions for people with disabilities across Pakistan (and other relevant services):

    http://directory.nowpdp.org/?q=category/educationRecommend

  • http://yousufbawany.wordpress.com Muhammad Yousuf Bawany

    Dear Sybil,

    Hope you are doing alright. This here is a wonderfully written thought-provoking piece of writing. I don’t usually comment a lot but I couldn’t resist putting my two bits on this one.

    The work that you have done with Omar is really praise-worthy and I’m sure he and his parents will be eternally indebted to you. We need more teachers like you in our education system who not only teach, but observe as well. I’m sure Omar would have been labelled an obstinate, hard-headed child had it been someone other than you.

    Take care and keep up the good work.
    YousufRecommend

  • maryamsoofi

    a very nicely written piece and i hope more people can understand that what a autistic child is suffering from.but on the other hand i would like to also point out that its very sad we live in a intolerant,crude and cruel society where i don’t see many “Normal” people or behaviour thesedays.
    We need all sorts of institutions one of them should just be teahcing us “compassion” which the west has to larger extent understood.
    COMPASSION towards all living creatures!”Normal” means nothing but being human is whats needed in this world and is what will change the world to become a better place.Recommend

  • Imran Munawar

    God will definitely Bless You abundantly for this noble task and unconditional love for your profession.Salutes **

    Stay Blessed !Recommend

  • a mom

    Stop using labels such as ‘specail’ but create more institutions? the best way to handle this challenge is to lock it away in an institution? how is THAT helpful?Recommend

  • Johannes

    Thanks to the author for a good job with Omer and for advocating through this article. I would like to point out one thing though. You write:

    The lack of this vital information resulted in confusion and stress, on my part, while dealing with Omer in a normal classroom learning environment – a fact that was equally painful to him. Often, due to his inability to follow regular instructions, he would sob hysterically with closed fists, tears streaming down his face, staring at me helplessly with pain stricken eyes.

    I’ll say it was probably much more painful for him. For neurotypicals it is extremely hard to imagine the daily pains that people with autism suffer from living in “normal environment”.
    Many being highly sensitive too sounds, light, other people etc. causes extreme stress and sometimes physical pain for the individual with autism.

    This, the suffering of the autistic child should be the departure point when wanting to change environs/attitudes around the child. Recommend

  • http://sheeraz1022.wordpress.com Sheeraz Shaikh

    Thumbs Up (Y).. I am happy to see that we still do have such type of ppl like you who are actively working for the betterment of others.. your keenness in giving more time to that kid is more appreciable. God Bless you.!!Recommend

  • http://djdurrani.blogspot.com Saad Durrani

    My cousin once had to handle a dyslexic child. She left the job because she was unable to deal with him effectively even though the child got attached to her. She was no specialist and had to take information off the Internet.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-zenith-of-enthusiasm-by-NH/219233198101971 Noo-ul-Ain Haniff

    Nice write-up awareness is neededRecommend