By Alfonso Kasongo
There are over 1.3 million Zambians with disabilities representing 7.7 percent of the national population, this is according to the 2015 National Disability Survey Report.
The disability population ratio is too big to neglect hence the need for serious attention with a call to highlight the autism spectrum, the National Autism Association of Zambia (NAAZ) observes.
The number of autism people in Zambia is fast increasing yet this form of disability is being overlooked, an autistic school of law graduate observes.
On Saturday, April, 2 Zambia joined the rest of the world in commemorating the World Auctism Awareness Day with autism mothers lamenting how autism is socially, physically and mentally affecting.
The mothers appreciates and embraces their autistic children despite the pain the conditions of their children continue to impact them.
“As working class autistic mothers we need to be embraced ,we need some relief at our work places to train our autistic children,” mothers cry.
Autism is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. An autism parent denotes one with or caring for a child with an autistic condition.
During the 2022 World Autism Awareness Day celebrations, the day was filled with hope as it created a platform for autistic people and their guardians to express their free will to let out the pain they go through and call for immediately help.
Romakala Mwanza an autistic individual and law graduate from University of Lusaka, says it took her 7 years to complete her law studies instead of 4 because of issues associated to her condition.
Ms Mwanza narrates that an autistic child can achieve greater education just like any other child but it is sad that most skilled teachers are not willing to teach children with autism branding and stigmatising them as naughty.
She further notes that government and Zambian people are not giving autism the attention it deserves adding that the situation has triggered the low statistics and information on the disability.
“No one wishes to born with autism ,look am a graduate but still not employed. Society acts differently towards us ,” Ms Mwanza said.
Our homes are broken,we need some relief ,Exilda Jika ,an autistic parent of Lusaka’s Makeni area cries.
Mrs Jika says autistic parents are always physical and mentally tired hence appealing to government for support.We need to be understood at work place ,at home as our hearts are not at peace.
Let there be a deliberate policy that will relieve working autistic parents from work such as working half day,Mrs Jika added.
Some homes are broken as most husbands bolt their homes citing witchcraft from their wives’ relatives as responsible for the condition of an autistic child.
” In developed countries, autistic parent are not allowed to work ,governments support them .They ensure parents are at home training and preparing autistic children for the future. I know Zambia we are still very far but gradually we can be there.Parents are either either relieved from employment or work half day,” She said.
“As autistic parent, my heart is not at peace, any time you can receive a phone call that the child is not behaving well,he is breaking things,” Mrs Jika explained.
Another parent Sylvia Mutale and also owner of Woodcreek school for special needs in Lusaka’s woodlands area says government has not done much to highlighten disability in the autism spectrum.
Ms. Mulenga points out that government is being hypocritical in making claims that it is adequately addressing issues of disability.
“Autistic parents are crying out for help day and night. There is alot to be done, ” Ms Mutale said.
Ms Mutale appeals to government to create systems that will address challenges of autism in the country.
She also adds that free education ha further widen the challenges to autistic school going children as the environment is not safe for them due overcrowded classroom.
“With free education, where will our children be because classes are full.We can not afford to put them in overcrowded classroom as they need special needs,” Ms Mutale wondered.
And a teacher at Great North Academy who is special needs expert and speech therapist Tina Chipalabantu says lack of resources required to teach autistic child remains a big challenge.
Ms Chipalabantu discloses that autistic children require special attention as their ability to learn depends on resources and interests in gadgets.
Meanwhile, Luyando Simasiku who is in her twenties looks after two autistic brothers and she says….”Caring for autistic people especially children is an everyday learning process. I learn alot through non-verbal and I sharply understand them.”
Ms. Simasiku recently discovered that my autistic brother has mastered how to operate a mobile phone. ”
Ms. Simasiku her brother has high photographic memory ” and this has been helpful in our day-to-day living. We mainly do not need to be with him every time than it used before. ”
Before, I needed to be with him but now you just need a phone to keep him around because he knows specific phone applications where to find cartoons, she narrates.
“Through teaching, training, my brothers have improved very much than it was 5 years ago and we are very hopeful that in the next five years we will be able to see greater change, Simasiku explained.
Simasiku called on government and the families to develop interest in this form of disability for early intervention in case of any occurrences.
NAAZ National Chairperson Angela Namuyomba Gondwe says children with autism disorder continue to suffer in Zambia and are regarded as people who cannot contribute towards nationaldevelopment.
Mrs. Gondwe notes with sadness that three quarters of health workers in the country do not understand autism adding that it has been very depressing for our health experts to suspect witchcraft as cause of autism.
Mrs. Gondwe regretted that autistic children have been denied access better services such education and religious.
“We want health workers be knowledgeable about autism and creation of specific health posts for autism people for early intervention. We also want to see autism schools, church Sunday school teachers trained in autism,” said Mrs. Gondwe.
And ministry of community development Chief Social Welfare officer Morris Moono says government has made several robust strives in mainstreaming the disability agenda in the country since Zambia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010.
“Government recognises and ensures that people with disabilities are mostly excluded from several opportunities and services in health, education, employment, accessible information and transport which exacerbate their vulnerability and poverty,” said Moono.
However, Mr Moono, notes that among several robust intervention to enhance the disability agenda, government has increased targets and amounts for social cash transfer for people with disabilities. Also increased targets for farmer input supply programme (FISP) for vulnerable but viable farmers with disabilities.
Support learners with disabilities through public welfare assistance scheme as well as increase tax rebate for different abled Zambians in formal employment. Tax rebate has also been extended to employers who employ Zambians with disabilities.