Today is World Autism Awareness Day. In Turkey, where about 550,000 autistic individuals, including 150,000 below the age of 14 live according to unofficial figures, families complain of a lack of social acceptance for their autistic children. They toil for their children's proper development but hurdles for their social integration prove daunting. Still, they do not give up the struggle to raise awareness.
Gülşah Savsa, mother of ten-year-old Toygar who was diagnosed with autism, says she is going through "a difficult process that needs one to have patience." "I didn't know the meaning of patience before Toygar. His condition taught me patience but I am happy that efforts I exerted for him eventually pay off. You have to have your children educated to overcome the challenges. We went through difficult times and needed support. For me, it was my family that gave me the biggest support. We gave Toygar our love and saw his condition improving," Savsa says.
She says the families should be resilient against autism and turn a blind eye to the "negative" statements of others. "Families should give all their love to their children and should not give up their fight for education. You can see curious looks from other people toward your child but you cannot confine him or her to home just because the child is different than others," she adds. Savsa says playing games with autistic children definitely helps them in education and attending classes with children without the condition contributes to their improvement. "Unfortunately, this is not the case in this country. Toygar attends a public school [in a class where children without autism also attend]. He likes to play with his friends but parents of some students do not want their children to mingle with him. I call people to not stay away from children with autism. This will make them happy and better integrated," she says.
Selin (L) learned how to keep her balance thanks to sports training.
Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before the age of 3. Another obstacle for families is a lack of schools for autistic children to attend. Gülşah Savsa says those children can acquire skills in many different fields in social life if only they have a proper education. "Many children show improvement with the support of their families but special education by the state is insufficient. There should be more schools and classes. The cost is too high for special schools for those children and is a serious economic burden for families. I believe this will significantly contribute to their rapid development," she adds.
CHILDREN BEING ISOLATED
Hülya Saygı, mother of 18-year-old Selin and a board member of the nonprofit Autism Foundation says autism was a less known condition in the past but people have gained more awareness on the issue recently. She recalls the difficult times in the past after her daughter was diagnosed with autism. "The education period for those children in state-funded special education centers are too short. Children have individual and group classes three hours in total for three days a week but it is not enough. You have to pay for extra classes in private special education centers and it is a challenge for families who cannot afford it," Saygı says. She adds that another problem is children being isolated. "School-age autistic children do not have social acceptance. You feel like they are ostracized from society," she says. Still, she is resolved to fight for the development of Selin, who took up sports six years ago, helping her to improve her eye, hand and leg coordination. "She stopped walking on her tiptoes," she points out.
Saygı calls on families to not stop educating their children and seek interaction with families of autistic children. "There were times that I thought Selin would fail, only to see her succeeding. When I discovered how capable she is, I shared her accomplishments on social media so I could instill hope in other families. If she can do it, others can do too," she says. Selin overcame many obstacles and apart from a slight speech impairment, she is doing well compared to other autistic children.