By: Özgül GÜREL of Tohum Autism Foundation
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that appears before age three. It is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and rigid and repetitive behaviors. It includes subtypes known as autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, Rett syndrome, and Asperger syndrome. In DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) diagnostic manual, which will be published in May 2013 autism subtypes will be incorporated. The criteria for diagnoses of autism will be changed as well in the edition of DSM-5.
There is a great deal of increase in the prevalence of autism. According to statistics from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 88 American children are on the spectrum. It is also reported that there is a 10 fold increase in prevalence in the past approximately 50 years and it is four to five times more common in boys than girls. Improvement in the diagnosis of autism and environmental influences are two possible variables often considered as the cause of this increase. Forty to sixty percent of children with autism also have an intellectual disability. Unfortunately, there are no statistics about the incidence rate of autism in Turkey. However, Turkey is a big country (over 75 million at census 2012) and it is assumed that the number of children who have autism will be roughly the same as in the rest of the world.
Sadly, the services for children with autism in Turkey are inadequate. The number of children with autism who are receiving public education is very limited. If we consider CDC’s autism rate there should be more than 250,000 students in primary through high school period. But unfortunately only 3,223 children who have ASD are in the education system currently. There are several placement options in Turkish Education System for students with autism depending on the severity of autism. They can attend to (a) general education classroom in regular schools, (b) educational centers for children with ASD, and (c) special schools for children with intellectual disabilities.
According to the statistics of Ministry of Education 2011-2012 academic year there are 51 centers (10 in Istanbul) for children with autism throughout the country with 2,066 students at primary school level and 14 vocational training centers with 657 students. It is pleasant to indicate that the number of students who are being included in general education classrooms has been increasing year by year. But there are many children to be included in the country. The main problems in these areas can be stated as follows: (a) difficulties during diagnosis, (b) lack of special education teachers and related personnel (such as behavior analyst, speech and language pathologist etc) and (c) problems in curriculum for children with autism and other disabilities.
Early childhood education has been another problematic area in Turkey right now. Recently, children aged 37-66 months with special needs are covered under compulsory education by Legislation in Turkey. However, a very small portion of these children have access to early childhood education. The deficiency in special education teachers and other personnel is again a big problem. The number of early childhood education schools has been increasing year by year and so does the number of preschool students. While this development is being observed, there are still problems for accessing early childhood special education services. Furthermore, there is not a system or model for monitoring and educating babies and toddlers with special needs under 37 months old.
The lack of faculties at universities in the department of special education is another source of problem in special education system in Turkey. There are very limited human resources in higher education. The Higher Education Council in Turkey should consider to train and enroll more faculties.
As a result, it would not be wrong to say that many children with disabilities including ASD in Turkey have no access to appropriate and qualified education, yet. Therefore, a need to raise awareness in the society to provide better educational services to children with autism and other disabilities is evident.
Donations made through TPF towards Autism from now until April 2nd (World Autism Day) will be matched 1:1.