Champions Run for Autism, the drive behind the Family Group Eldoret Half Marathon, was born out of the need that 16 per cent of children with disabilities drop out of school due to social discrimination and lack of schools according to a 2014 study by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) Jitolee- the National Special Needs Education Survey. Global statistics indicate that 1 in 68 children have autism.
These sad statistics emanate from the fact that society does not comprehend the emotional and physical needs of children living with autism. Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that impairs the part of the brain that controls a person’s social communication, interaction and imagination and affects how a person communicates and relates with other people.
People with Autism experience the world differently from other people. The Autism spectrum has a wide spectrum of abilities that include: non-verbal communication, low control of emotions, challenging behaviours, lonely children and having very specific interests. All people living with Autism have difficulties in the following areas:
Difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, restricted and repetitive patterns of thoughts, interests and behaviour.
Children with autism tend to be visual learners, pay attention to detail, enjoy and remember routines, they are independent and stubborn and have specific interests that we can use to teach them new skills.
How can we be part of the solution?
Promoting inclusive societies requires improved access to basic education. The Family Group has recognised the need to dismantle barriers that bar them from accessing basic education. This includes making the physical environment more accessible, creating awareness, challenging attitudes and mistaken assumptions about children with autism.
Early intervention is key. With only 97 schools nationally with dedicated units for children with autism, there is need for us to do more to provide a conducive environment for learning and also increase the number of special education teachers.
It is our hope that every public school in the country can get a specialized classroom that is equipped with resources and special education teachers. If these students are included with other students in learning institutions, it means that they can learn, interact and we can demystify Autism. Once these children are able to find a handle on themselves, they can then join the other children in their classrooms. There is also the need to integrate children with special needs into the ordinary school system rather than having special schools set aside for them. This way, they can interact with other children and those without disabilities can learn to accept them and in turn, cure social discrimination.
With the first Autistic Centre in Uasin Gishu, we believe that we can do more. We can race up in our colours. We can be champions for autism and help set up necessary physical infrastructure and resources such as access ramps, adapted desks, toilets and doors within schools.
Inclusive education is key to the success of a 360-view education system that caters to the wholesome growth of our children. With appropriate infrastructure, proper teaching and learning materials and assistive devices, our children with special needs will have a greater chance of participating in the society.