This World Autism Awareness Day, our members followed the "Light it Up Blue" Movement by Autism Speaks to promote awareness and encourage the acceptance of persons on the autism spectrum.
This year's theme was "Inclusive and Quality Education for All".
We took this opportunity, via our social media, to address the issue of autism awareness and acceptance, as well as this year's theme. Executive members of the YWDEP, Ferozia and Zahra extensively discussed the history of autism; key features in respect of autism; famous persons and work by persons on the autism spectrum.
They also talked about this year's theme and its application in Mauritius. They concluded by saying that there is still a lot do as far as an inclusive and quality education is concerned in Mauritius inasmuch as:
Most children on the autism spectrum are still forced to attend Special Education Needs Institutions;
Although children who attended the mainstream system of education were given the possibility of attending classes via video conferencing, no such provisions were made during the COVID-19 for assisting children with disabilities who were in publicly-funded institutions, and this resulted in the vast majority of them being prevented from accessing their right to education during that period;
There is no set curriculum in SEN institutions and most children who attend such institutions are not provided with an adequate and quality education;
The concerned authorities have failed to attend and take remedial steps in respect of a young boy in Mauritius who was given the opportunity of pursuing his secondary education in the mainstream system, despite several warnings and actions taken to stop this discrimination. The concerned boy passed his PSAC examinations with flying colours but has been prevented from attending a mainstream school, for various reasons;
Only those who have access to privately funded institutions are having access to a quality education; and
Mauritius still follows mostly a segregated and integrated system of education when it comes to children with intellectual and/or "invisible" disabilities. Most of them are not taught basic writing, reading and numeracy skills at school, preventing them from unlocking their full potential.
We therefore call to the concerned authorities to start moving way from segregation, exclusion and integration, and to move towards an inclusive education instead. A whole reform should be undertaken to ensure that children on the autism spectrum, and all other types of disabilities, are provided with an inclusive, and quality education.
As pointed out and proved by Dr Leo Kanner in 1943, people on the autism spectrum are extremely intelligent and are capable of so many things, with the appropriate support. However, this will not be achieved unless and until we abolish SEN institutions as a norm in Mauritius.