Underscoring the necessity for all countries to support their most vulnerable citizens, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Bhutan on Wednesday said it is the responsibility of all to make sure adequate social and medical support for individuals with autism and neuro-development disorders.
"Governments should make policies and programmes to ensure that no individual is neglected. They deserve to have the opportunity to participate in their country's economic growth," she said.
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The prime minister said this while inaugurating a three-day 'International Conference on Autism and Nuero Developmental Disorders' at the Royal Banquet Hall here.
Bhutanese Prime Minister Dshao Tshering Tobgay also spoke at the inaugural session, kicked off with traditional Marchang ceremony of Bhutan.
Sheikh Hasina said, "Let's commit ourselves to recognising their multi-faceted talents beyond the diagnosis of the disorder and enable them to live life with dignity and hope in our inclusive society."
?She said no matter where on the spectrum they are, these individuals with ASD and NDDs deserve to live in dignity and be loved by people around them.
Hasina said without a systematic framework designed according to current scientific research on autism and other neuro-developmental disorders, service delivery models cannot be effective, financially feasible, or sustainable in the long run.
She said sometimes, even well-standardised programmes remain inaccessible to families living outside major urban cities and beyond their means. "Despite our commitments, there are no established guidelines or models to assist them," she said.
Hasina said all governments of the world should make policies and programmes to ensure that no individual is neglected.
"We need to recognise that children with ASD and other Neuro-Developmental Disorders (NDDs) need specific educational intervention. It's of utmost importance to create education systems that would cater to their different and unique learning needs while ensuring access by them to general education systems," she said.
Hasina regretted that worldwide people and families with ASD are often subject to stigma, discrimination and human rights violations.
Talking about Bangladesh, she said incorporating disability and autism into the mainstream national developmental agenda is one of the country's priority areas.
For the first time, she said, a nationwide census in Bangladesh has included information on persons living with disabilities including autism. "We've taken a number of legislative, social and medical initiatives to address the issue of autism."
She mentioned that an 8-member 'Advisory Committee on Autism and Neuro-developmental Disorders' headed by Saima Wazed Hossain helps the national steering committee develop priorities, design programmes, devise implementation strategies, identify necessary resources and provide guidance on the appropriate use of those resources.
Regionally, she said, Bangladesh played a crucial lead role in the formation of South Asian Autism Network (SAAN) and its Charter.
Hasina said Bangladesh's initiatives and leading role in the field of ASD could not have been generated without the relentless efforts of Saima Wazed Hossain."Saima has not only raised awareness, but her efforts have contributed significantly to life-changing experiences for many."
In Bangladesh, she said, she has been instrumental in getting recognition for ASD as a disorder and not a curse, as was often believed by many.
"Her work in this area has been recognised by WHO through her appointment as a member of World Health Organization's 25-member Expert Advisory Panel on mental health," Hasina added.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, World Health Organization Regional Director for Southeast Asia, was present at the function as the special guest, while Health Minister of Bhutan Lyonpo Tandin Wangchukk delivered the welcome address.
Parent speaker of the session was Chimmi Lhaden, while Dr Yolanda Liliyana Maya Ortega, founder and executive director of Centro Ann Sulivan del Peru, made a special presentation on 'The power of two: families and professionals working as partners for children with autism to become independent, productive and happy'.
Bhutanese Queen Jetsun Pema and Chairperson of Suchana Foundation and Chairperson of Bangladesh National Advisory Committee for Autism and Neuro-developmental Disorders Saima Wazed Hossain were present on the occasion.