On the 2nd of April the World Autism awareness day has taken place. I decided to broach this topic because with Udruga Amazonas, the association I am a volunteer for, I am participating in trainings for children with autism. There, I could really get a grasp on what being autistic is like. And I thought it’s an important topic since we are promoting social inclusion values through all of our projects.
First of all : what is autism spectrum syndrome?
According to Mayo clinic: “Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behaviour.”
The manifestations of autism vary greatly not only from one person to another but also within the same person. The difficulties of people with autism affect many areas, particularly those that require or generate contact with the environment. All people with an ASD have a variety of symptoms. That’s also why it is hard to find tools that can help them to have a better life.
Why the world autism awareness day?
The purpose of the world autism awareness day is to sensibilize people and also children in school about this syndrome so that people with autism become more accepted in our society. According to National day, women are more undiagnosed than men, so this world day allows us to know more about the disorder, so for example: “Did you know that CDC statistics revealed that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is 4.3 times more prevalent in boys than it is in girls? This is because girls “often go undiagnosed because they don’t fit autism stereotypes and they mask symptoms better than boys do,” according to the Child Mind Institute. There is no better way to celebrate this day than by becoming aware of the characteristics of people with this condition. And how all of us can do better to increase our own understanding and promote kindness.
The theme of 2021. & 2022. campaigns is Inclusion in the Workplace : Challenges and Opportunities. Panellists in last year’s event emphasized how crucial it is to foster inclusive quality education for people on the autism spectrum. So that they can fulfil their potential and achieve sustainable success in the labour market. In this respect, inclusive education is the key to the transformative promise of the Sustainable Development Goals : to leave no one behind.
Why does Udruga Amazonas use Capoeira as a tool for Autistic children?
To answer this question, I asked Anđa (coach for capoeira kindergarten group, capoeira for children within our association), to detail some benefits of Capoeira for children with autism.
“Practicing Capoeira has a positive effect for children with ASD. This include: social interaction and communication skills, self-regulation, memory, cognitive function and postural control.
Capoeira in general has the benefits of helping to achieve a healthy weight and build a healthy body. It also can be a source of superpowers. We are using music and playing instruments. Music is a supporting method for kids with autistic disorders and can have an analgesic effect. It can also help reduce hypersensitivity of various sensory systems.”
The situation in Croatia regarding disabilities
Croatia signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Thus assuming the obligation to ensure access to augmentative and alternative communication devices for children with communication disabilities. However, they are still not on the list of medical products ensured by the CHIF. The high costs of such devices restricts the availability of assistive technology for children with complex communication disabilities, such as those with autism. As a solution, UNICEF created the program “Assistive Technology for Children with Disabilities”. This programme included comprehensive training for experts who work with children. It provided equipment for assistive technology for nine health institutions, 12 associations, and 11 educational institutions and social welfare institutions throughout Croatia.
Festival of light in Zagreb : Exhibitions being a way to educate people about autism and disabilities
I went to the Festival of Lights in Zagreb that took place from the 20th March to the 24th March. That’s where I realized exhibitions are a good way to impact people, and sensibilize them about a specific topic. For me, education is the key to reducing social issues.
So, within this festival, there was an event that took place as an exhibition in the Museum of reality. It was organized by UNICEF, through the program “For every child” of UNICEF Croatia.
This was the fifth edition of UNICEF Museum of Reality. It brings interactive experiences that enlighten the possibilities of children with disabilities and the Festival of Lights 2022. The concept was to show to the public the special devices used by children with disabilities through interactive experiences.
“We at UNICEF believe that support for children with disabilities should be focused on what they can do! We are committed to the aim that every child with disabilities in Croatia receives the support that he or she needs. We wish to influence attitudes, eliminate stigma and discrimination, and build awareness of the importance of creating equal opportunities for every child, as the basis for a better society. Visit the Museum of Reality, experience reality through the eyes of those who “see” the world differently from you and discover the possibilities by which we can change the reality of children with disabilities in Croatia forever!”, said Regina M. Castillo, UNICEF Croatia Representative.
I asked the communication team about this event and the actions of UNICEF regarding children with autism.
“UNICEF always focuses on the most vulnerable children, and among them are certainly children with disabilities. In Croatia, key services are still not sufficiently accessible for many children with disabilities. Only 1 in 3 children with disabilities, who are users of social welfare benefits based on disability, have access to professional services. In the least developed areas the situation is even worse. Because, on average, only 1 in 4 children with disabilities has access to these services.
For the last two years, UNICEF has been running a campaign for children with disabilities and their families. UNICEF will invest the funds raised in Milky Way races to establish and expand group psychosocial support services and day care services where children with disabilities and their families receive support from professionals such as rehabilitators, social workers, nurses, psychologists, speech therapists, and various other therapists, while also equipping sensory cabinets and spaces for the training of sensory integration therapists in parts of Croatia where this kind of support is not available.
UNICEF will also invest funds in expanding quality support programs for parents of children with disabilities. So that they can provide their child with the best possible care. This year, Museum of reality was part of the Festival of Lights for the first time. Entitled “In Light of Possibilities”.
Special light devices used by children with developmental disabilities in sensory rooms and the experiences of blind and visually impaired children told a unique story about lights that make the impossible possible. Sensory room is a multisensory space used to provide sensory stimulation to children with sensory integration difficulties by exposing them to different stimuli or reducing sensory stimuli and allowing them to relax. Sensory rooms are used in working with children with hyperactivity, attention disorder, children with autism spectrum disorder, sensory and multiple disabilities, intellectual disabilities and self-regulation difficulties.
In addition to the programs we implement to support children with disabilities and their families. It is important to raise awareness of the general public about the importance of providing adequate support to every child. Every child has the right to the kind of support that will expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.
Exhibits of the Museum of Reality have been curated and prepared in cooperation with the Center for rehabilitation of children and young people Mali dom in Zagreb and E-Glas company.”
To conclude, we have to fight to make the differences be accepted in our society. Autism, like other disabilities, is not understood well enough by people. This can enable the exclusion of people with ASD. Thankfully, events or organizations, NGOs like UNICEF or our NGO are fighting to make the life of people with autism easier. And to make them feel accepted and part of our society. No one deserves to be left out. It’s with solidarity and kindness that we can include and make this world better for everyone.