For a very long time, Jacqueline Dushimirimana struggled to find the right school for her daughter since her condition did not allow her to follow the regular school programme.
Dushimirimana started noticing behavioural differences between her daughter and other babies when she was still one.
“She could not sit in one place and be steady,” Dushimirimana said.
At seven the daughter was enrolled in primary school but could only spend one term there.
“She couldn’t be still and kept moving out of class and could not grasp what she was being taught to her,” Dushimirimana narrated, disclosing that this prompted her to seek medical advice.
“We did several medical consultations…but all in vain,” she said.
After some time, the child was diagnosed with autism — a spectrum of disorders marked by deficits in social communication and interaction and repetitive behaviours of widely varying severity.
Desperate for an accurate diagnosis, Dushimirimana took her daughter to Autism Rwanda, a local organisation that helps autistic children. It confirmed the diagnosis.
The daughter, now 11, was on the edge of leaving school when her mother was told about Autism Rwanda where she has enrolled to continue with her education.
Globally, 1 in 160 children has autism, according to the World Health Organisation.
In Rwanda, data on cases of autism is scarce, however, Rosine Duquesne Kamagaju, the Director and Founder of Autisme Rwanda, says that cases are on the rise.
This means that many parents in Rwanda who have autistic children don’t get the opportunity that Dushimirimana got, and hence their children are kept out of school. Others don’t even get to know that their children are autistic because of limited diagnosis.
“Autistic children are being kicked out of schools, and families experience economic hardships due to the additional costs of providing education for a child with autism,” Kamagaju says. “Because of lack of education and resources children with autism in Rwanda are having a hard time accessing education.”
Kamagaju added that children who receive autism-appropriate education and support at key developmental stages are more likely to gain essential social skills and react better in society.
“These children need special care. Therefore, there is need for more specific autism training for teachers in schools, need for transition planning at each move through the education process, and flexibility of inclusion policies in schools,” she added.
Even in Autism Rwanda, probably the only organisation that caters for autistic children, there’s no proper curriculum to follow while training these children.