This week is "Autistic Children Week" in Britain, where a campaign is being mounted to publicise autism and raise funds to combat it.
This week is "Autistic Children Week" in Britain, where a campaign is being mounted to publicise autism and raise funds to combat it. Although the campaign covers only Britain, the problem of autistic children -- handicapped by psychological disorders -- is an international one. To illustrate the problems of dealing with the disorders, a VISNEWS camera team visited one London school specialising in the education of autistic children and filmed this story.
SYNOPSIS: These schoolchildren in London, Britain, look normal -- outwardly, anyway. But they are being educated at a special school because they suffer from autism -- a psychological disorder which makes them mentally subnormal. In Britain this week it is "Autistic Children Week" -- a campaign designed to publicise the disorder and raise funds to combat it. And, with autistic children liable to have fits at any time, the problem of their education is an acute one.
The children are taught in the hopes that some will lead normal lives -- so, at the end of the day, they go home to their families. It is important, say psychiatrists, for them to have the benefits of a home background. But the problem -- about which little is known by doctors -- is not only British. Autism can and does attack children everywhere -- and one major task facing doctors is educating the public to understand it.
At this school, in a London suburb, a team of teachers, doctors and nursery attendants cope with only 17 children. Each child needs a high degree of attention -- and the success rate in dealing with autism is gradually rising as more is known about the problem. The symptoms of autism can be difficult to distinguish from other forms of mental subnormality -- they include lack of affection, mental withdrawal, and extreme difficulty in learning to read, write or talk. And autism is all the more difficult to combat because it is purely psychological -- physically, however, autistics can appear normal. In an attempt to define the disorder more accurately, one psychiatrist compared it with a computer that had been wrongly programmed. Everything was there, she said, but somewhere some wires were crossed.
Meanwhile, education is aimed at developing their talents, particularly in the physical field -- for autistic children are often able to outshine ordinary children at such things as gymnastics and mechanical tasks like putting together jigsaw puzzles -- but even then, the problem is underlined when an autistic child finds the going difficult. Then, it will show frustration and mental disorder.
The task of educating autistics can, according to the special school teachers, be very frustrating. But these children CAN be taught to take their place in society if protected by a secure background -- and the task of fitting them in would be much easier if the problem was understood by the public.