While six-year-old Hridoy Khan was growing up, her mother Fatema Begum noticed that he needed special care.
After a series of tests at hospitals, doctors diagnosed him with autism spectrum disorder, much to the shock of the 35-year-old mother.
But Fatema and her husband, a Bangladeshi living in Saudi Arabia, did not give up hope. They kept looking for an appropriate school and treatment centre for their third child.
At the age of six, Hridoy was admitted to Anandashala (abode of joy), a school for children with special needs situated on the campus of Jahangirnagar University.
Speaking to The Daily Star, another mother, Sajeda Siddiqua, shared her experiences with her six-year-old child Safwan Shaheen Ikra, who is also a student at the school.
“Whenever Ikra goes out with his father or me, we hold on tightly to his hands, as we fear that something might trigger erratic behaviour.”
She also said, “Doctors have advised us against any aggressive behaviour with him as disagreements may trigger an outburst. But people around him are not usually empathic towards him and become annoyed with him easily.
“Ikra will turn seven this month, but he is in need of constant care and control. We live in fear that he may just run across a busy street or jump into an elevator.”
Seventeen-year-old Farzana Binte Shah Roja has suffered from severe speech impairment along with acute attention deficit hyperactivity problems. She had a tendency to remain silent and isolated.
During a visit to the school, The Daily Star correspondent saw her sitting alone at a corner.
Talking about her, Suraiya Akter, principal of the school, said love and friendly behaviours towards her coupled with counselling brought positive changes in Farzana.
Jahangirnagar University, in association with Centre for Disability and Development (CDD), founded Anandashala in October 2009. The initiative was taken by then VC Prof Sharif Enamul Kabir.
The guardians of the students at the school said they are grateful at the opportunity that the university has given.
Stepping into its tenth year, Anandashala now has 20 students, 9 teachers and 2 Occupational Therapy (OT) and Physiotherapists.
Associate Prof Sharmind Neelormi of Economics, who also helped establish the school, said, “We started the awareness initiatives among the teachers and students of the university in early 2006.
Later, in association of CDD, the university authorities began the school in 2009 at the JU Central Students' Union building with three rooms.
“I thought the university will be best places to set up the school as most people here are aware and sensible.”
Mamunur Rashid, teacher in-charge of the school, said, “It's a great news for us that we have been able to transfer 3 to 4 students to regular schools, where they are performing well, both academically and psychologically.”
On dealing with children with varying degrees of autism in their classrooms, he said, “It is all about individual attention. Every student has to have an individual lesson plan.”
Meanwhile, Prof Hanif Ali of Computer Science and Engineering department at JU, who is the honorary director of Anandashala, said Dhaka District Parishad Chairman Mahbubur Rahaman has already allotted around Tk 22 lakh for infrastructure development for these special children.
“We have already tested the soil to set up a school building,” he added.