Updated on 10 June 2008
One of Marhum Mulla Asghar M M Jaffer’s dreams was realized when The World Federation Autistic Centre was opened in Dar-es-Salaam on 19th February 2006, by President Dr. Ahmed Hassam in the presence of Africa Federation Chairman Ramzan bhai Nanji, managing trustee Dr. Zulfiqarali. G. Abbas and other leaders of our community. The first of its kind in the whole of East Africa, this centre provides structured support for children with autism and other disabling and chronic conditions.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that is a result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. All autistic individuals share common behavioral characteristics, and diagnosis is made on this basis. Generally autistic children display the following:
- Impaired ability to engage in social interaction;
- Impaired communication skills;
- Specific behavioral patterns (for example, preoccupation, resistance to change, repetitive behaviors
Autism is not a mental illness. Children with autism are not unruly kids who choose not to behave. The syndrome of autism is a severely incapacitating and life-long disability.
It is important to understand that they symptoms of a person with autism can change as the individual matures and receives treatment.
Autism is not curable but it is highly treatable, symptoms can be lessened and skills can be acquired with early intervention and support. Children with autism can learn to manage and deal more effectively with their difficulties.
What The World Federation Autistic Centre Is
The World Federation Autistic Day Care Centre in Dar-es-Salaam was opened to provide a well structured, nurturing environment to children diagnosed with autism and other chronic conditions, such as Down Syndrome, ADHD, ADD and other learning disabilities.
Although there are schools for the disabled, there were no structured facilities for Autistic children. In order to receive support for their child, parents had to take them out of the country, places like Kenya, Saudi Arabia, South Africa or India. After researching the need and formalizing a structure for the school, it was opened in February 2006.
The centre currently operates as a day education school, teaching life, and social, communication, and behavior skills on top of the basic curriculum. Since the centre opened, 34 children have been a part of the program, 15 of which are Autistic.
There are many goals of the centre. These include:
- Provide education and rehabilitation for children with Autism and other chronic conditions - Individually designed programs best meet the needs of a person with autism. The centre creates individual ongoing educational plans that are specific to each child, allowing the child to fulfill their unique potential. Through the teaching and training of the occupational therapists, psychologists, and teachers, these children are given the love and support they need to learn how to manage their symptoms and be able to lead productive, happy lives and be a part of their society.
The centre has good sized classrooms, a library, a kitchen, and a balcony area for interaction sessions. Other rooms include an arts and crafts area, and a beautiful sand playground for the children, complete with swings, seesaw, roundabout, slides and monkey bars.
- Provide a safe and stimulating environment for the children
The centre also has a sensory room padded with soft shapes and balls, specifically designed to enhance social interaction and sensory awareness.
Mr.Shrima, therapist, working with a student
- Create Autism awareness in the society
The Autistic Centre holds awareness days for the community and other schools. The community is informed about what Autism is and how it should be dealt with. Educating the public will create more respect and acceptance for these children, allowing them to receive the same rights and opportunities as others. Workshops are given at various schools so that children can eventually integrate into normal schools. Teachers have also visited the Madressa and Al Muntazir School to raise awareness.
- Provide counseling and support for families
Manage counseling sessions for parents and siblings of Autistic children to help them cope with the stress, exhaustion and discrimination they face on a daily basis.
Support and Recognition
The World Federation Autistic Day Care Centre receives in house training and full support from The National Autistic Society of the UK. The centre has had renowned visitors, who train staff in working effectively with the children.
Kit Howe, Deputy Principal of the Robert Ogden School
Mr. Kit Howe interacting with the children
Mr. Howe has visited the centre, spending time with the children and staff. He also offered advice and support in setting up the school, and also gave The Robert Ogden’s commitment to sending volunteers and essential help for the school.
Kari Dunn Buron, MS and Joyce Santo MS
Kari and Joyce visited the centre in May 2008. They spent time working with the children and staff, and also spoke at the Autism Awareness Day on 24 May 2008. They helped restructure the school syllabus and introduced new activities to the children.
Kari is one of the founding members of the Minnesota Autism Network and has experience in giving classes on autism to parents and setting up schools. She is also the author of several books.
Kari commented: “The World Federation Autistic Day Centre is a valuable and much needed resource for the Dar es Salaam community. The program offers state of the art strategies for children with autism using visual structure and organization. The children are happy and seem to enjoy coming to school. In addition, the support staff at the centre are some of the hardest working people I have ever met”.
Joyce has worked exclusively with children with autism for the past fifteen years developing programs in both elementary and pre schools. She is holds positions on several boards and committees for autism research and treatment.
Joyce expressed: “We believe we left the program with not just a few new ideas but also empowered them to use a problem solving process to revise and adapt the program as the children learn and grow. It was a delight to work with such dedicated staff and charming children. The World Federation Autistic Day Centre is fulfilling a valuable service to the community”.
Such visits provide staff and teachers with the opportunity to learn about other facilities, organisations and new teaching methods.
The Need for Such a Centre in Tanzania
Today as many as 1 out of every 166 children will be born autistic. Accurate diagnosis and early intervention can provide for building an effective and appropriate education and treatment program.
In developing countries, the facilities to treat children with Autism are poor and very expensive. Children with Autism and other disabling conditions are discriminated and considered to be useless. These groups of children are deprived of any treatment or therapy and end up in institutions enduring terrible suffering for the rest of their lives.
Though it is very difficult to find specific data on the number of children affected by Autism in Africa, the number of diagnoses is rising, and is now higher than it has ever been before.
Only recently in the "Lancet" the U.K. reported approximately 2 percent of boys have an autism spectrum disorder, and that is truly catastrophic. Third world nations in Africa or in Asia don't have that kind of collecting power, to go out into the community and really get good statistics for us, and the little bit that we do know would indicate that it's every bit as bad if not worse in those nations.
Making a Difference
The personalized therapy and education that these children receive is already having a positive effect on the students. The children have shown progress and improvement. There are several success stories of children showing change in behaviors.
A boy who joined the centre at the age of 7, had never attended school and had behavior problems. He also needed assistance with toilet training and eating habits. Within six months of joining the school, he had shown improvement in his eating, social behavior and even been successfully toilet trained. He was much calmer and had less aggressive behavior around others. He was happier and even began to show interests in new things and was open to changes.
The support and structure that the facility provides helps the children overcome their challenges in an effective and successful manner.
Your Support in Making a Difference
The support and training provided at the centre is already having a profound impact on the children, but there are several areas that still need to be addressed to further enhance the facilities provided.
- To meet the high demand, funds are needed to increase the facilities to provide service to more children.
- A 12 seat bus is urgently needed to provide transportation, which will allow additional children to attend the centre.
- Sponsorship is greatly required for many families who can not afford the fees for the centre despite the fact that their child is in great need of the services available at the centre. Currently, the fees per term are Tshs 300,000 or 1,200,000 a year.
You can make a difference in the lives of these Autistic children by donating to The World Federation Autistic Centre. With proper diagnosis and therapy, these children have a chance at leading rich fulfilling lives which would otherwise be impossible for them. Please donate
generously and give them a chance at the happy childhood every child deserves
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