By Emmanuel Okiri
Every year on April 2nd, the world remembers ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). This helps to raise global awareness of Autism and fosters global acceptance, all while empowering people. ASD encompasses a wide range of issues affecting a person’s general cognitive, mental, physical, and social well-being.
According to the Mombasa County Youth, Gender, and Sports Department, the city has 147 registered autistic children. Unleashing Potential in Autism (UPIA), a local community-based group, reports that there are over 200 unregistered Autistic children in the region.
People with ASD are stigmatized, discriminated against, and have their human rights violated the most around the world. People with ASD also don’t have enough access to resources and support, and society needs to do more to handle them with dignity and care.
There are only three educational facilities in Mombasa County that cater to autistic children. The three privately run facilities are inadequate to support the over 300 autistic children.
Mr. John Musuva, the County Chief Education Officer, announced plans to build an autism center to help children with the disorder late last year.
“Plans are in the works, and the project, which is already halfway completed, is scheduled to launch by the end of the year. We’ve already identified autistic children, and we’ve been offering relief to parents impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic in the meantime,” says Ramla Said, a nominated member of the County Assembly for PWDs.
Providing for children with autism spectrum disorders is difficult, and it has become much more difficult for parents during this pandemic, as COVID 19 has made it more difficult to fulfill the needs of the affected children.
“Our children are reluctant to wear masks because they become frustrated and throw tantrums, and school closures have interrupted their routine, and they are slow to respond to changes in routine.” According to Mary Omboga, a mother, some of the children have suffered from depression as a result of the pandemic.
Although parents are pleased that a center for autistic children is being built, there are some issues that have yet to be resolved. Since the center does not provide vocational programs, the majority of the older children would be disqualified.
Parents of autistic children in Mombasa are working together through their welfare community to create two more centers with the aid of UPIA (Unleashing Potential in Autism).
They’ve supported each other by crowdfunding, using social media and messaging platforms like WhatsApp, to help other parents who have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.
Emmanuel Okiri is a journalist based in Mombasa, Kenya.