The Department of Paediatrics, A J Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Mangaluru celebrated World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, here at 10 am at the ground floor of the OPD.

The event was inaugurated by Dr. Prashanth Marla, Medical Director, A J Hospital and Research Centre who was one of the Guests of Honour for the occasion. Dr. Santhosh Soans, HoD, Dept. of Paediatrics, A J institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, and Dr. Ashok Hegde, Dean, A J Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre were the other Guests of Honour. Aafreen Vaz, Miss India Superanational 2015, was the Chief Guest for the occasion.

After the inaugural, the traditional ceremony of lighting of the lamp was performed by the dignitaries.

Speaking to the gathering, Dr. Ashok Hegde said, “This programme has been conducted to spread awareness about Autism and also as a part of the Institute’s obligatory service to the society. Children are a gift from God but, unfortunately many children’s innocence is affected by Autism. There are 60 to 70 million people around the world who suffer from Autism out of which 10 million are in India. One out of 68 children in the US have Autism.” Commenting about the awareness programme he said that international days such as this not only serve to spread awareness among people, but also help bring smaller organisations together so that they use their resources to work towards the research, diagnosis and treatment of Autism. There is no known cure for Autism right now but, we can work to remove the misconceptions about the disease, he said. He also wished the event a grand success.

A book titled ‘There is Beauty in Every Mind: World Autism Awareness Day’ was then released by the Chief Guest, Aafreen Vaz.

Addressing the gathering Dr. Santhosh Soans said, “Many years ago, no one knew what Autism was. The mother would say that the child was hyperactive and the teacher would say that the child is too naughty to be kept in school. Only when Autism was clearly defined did people start to realise that the child is different. That is why today’s programme’s slogan is ‘it’s okay to be different’.” Elaborating about Autism and its diagnosis he said that early detection is key. “If the symptoms are identified between 1.5 to 2 years of age by way of the child’s eye contact, it can be brought back to normal. Autism is indiscriminate of the rich and the poor. It is a spectrum that includes illnesses such as dyslexia and ADHD. A combination of speech, hearing and development therapy is needed to find out if a child is autistic. In 1989 in the US and European regions, a fraudulant paper was published where Autism was linked to vaccines. Fear of Autism drove many to stop vaccinating their children resulting in many deaths.”

A short skit by the students of A J Institute followed Dr. Soans’ address, where they tried to portray what it is like to have Autism.

Speaking about the World Autism Awareness Day, Dr. Shilpa, Child Growth Specialist said, “For the last 11 years , April 2 has been celebrated as the World Autism Day all over the globe. In the US, one out of 68 children has Autism. In a developing country like India where the population is quite large, it is difficult to assess the number of children with the illness. Autism is not the same as a mental disorder. There are many highly intelligent people with Autism, some of whom are scientists. It is not a disability but, is a different ability. Early diagnosis of the disease is important. Parents need to be vigilant for possible behavioural anomalies especially when the child is around one year of age. Once a child has been diagnosed, a vaccine is given at 18 months and subsequently at 24 months and 30 months, to stop the progression of the illness. A multi disciplinary team of doctors has to work with the child for rotational training so that they can live an independent life as they grow older.”