Commitment crucial to role of teachers in children with autism

DUBAI: The one-team professional approach with the teacher playing the most crucial role will help parents and families of children with autism accept the condition and situation.

“We cannot and must not force parents. It is how we (teachers) approach each case and our patience with the children, their (consequent) progress (out of our commitment) that will help parents (in denial),” said John Gilbert Valdez, a Nursing graduate-turned licensed professional teacher.

He also said: “We must always remember to focus more on the abilities and not the disabilities (of children with autism). They too have abilities. Focus on these.”

“Autism is a lifetime disability. Its causes and cure are not yet known so we need to really be committed,” added Valdez.

The Masters in Special Education-Major in Mental Retardation & Autism graduate, along with his colleagues at the Dubai-based Child Centre UAE, namely Melanie Bassig, a Physics/Physical Science degree holder-turned-Applied Behaviour Analysis technician and Carla Rongavilla, a Psychology graduate, were the main speakers at the recently-held “Autism Awareness Forum” organised by the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai.

The diplomatic mission set up the forum in relation to Manila’s “National Autism Consciousness Week” observed every third week of January since the late 1990s.

Officials and faculty members from Philippine schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates and parents of children with autism comprised the audience.

Valdez stated his take on the parents’ denial at the open forum when The Gulf Today raised a feedback that in some instances parents, particularly the mothers remain in denial, especially when children with autism show a slow progress in schools.

Interviewed, the three who have been dealing with children with autism, between two-and-a half years old to 16 years old, in the past seven years in the Philippines and in the UAE have the following notes:

l The children are delayed in speech and have no verbal language by ages two and three. These children are exposed too much on technology while their parents have other priorities.

l The children are unable to socialise as they are cloistered or engrossed on their IPADs and other gadgets.

l The children are fixated or into repetitive behaviours like the meticulous lining up of toys.

l The children are into disruptive self-injurious behaviour such as banging of their heads on the wall as a form of self-expression.

l Bullying of children with autism is a result of others un-exposed to what the neuro-developmental disorder, is all about.

Bassig said one of the “red flags” parents and families have to be wary about is the children’s sense of hearing especially if they remain un-responsive to name-calling as promptings are necessary just to get their attention.

Rongavilla who spoke on “Behaviour Management” and the proper handling of tantrums and meltdown emphasised on looking at and approaching these situations with patience and positive reinforcement.

“Always use positive statements,” she said, stressing the need to refrain from berating the children.

All three said parents must seek the assistance of the developmental paediatrician for diagnostics and tests if and when their children fail to manifest the following in their “developmental milestones”:

l Three months to six months old – smiling and cooing.

l Six months to 12 months old – motor skills of crawling, standing up and walking.

l Twelve months to 24 months old – verbal language, motor skills such as running, holding pencils.

lThree to seven years old – simple understanding of concepts

l Seven to 12 years old – simple to average understanding of concepts

• Twelve to 18 years old – complex understanding of concepts.