SWAC: A Praiseworthy Parent Initiative in Bangladesh
Back in 2000, the term “autism” was only vaguely known to professionals and totally unknown to the general public in Bangladesh. There were no schools or services available for individuals with autism. It was around that time that five mothers got together and organized to provide educational facilities for their own five children with autism. Their main objective was to enable individuals with autism, including their own children, to become independent and active members of the society by giving them quality autism-specific education, training, and rehabilitation.
Together they established the Society for the Welfare of Autistic Children (SWAC), a non-profit, non-governmental, non-political, and voluntary organization registered with the Department of Social Services under Societies Act of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
SWAC is managed by an Executive Committee, mainly consisting of parents of individuals with autism. All of the activities of SWAC are funded by student fees in addition to donations from members, parents, other generous individuals, organizations, and corporations.
In the early days, it was quite challenging for SWAC to raise awareness and educate parents and teachers. They struggled to provide adequate educational materials, toys, and equipment to the students as the program was quite expensive. Eventually because of the commendable work and perseverance of the founders, and the support of many generous individuals and corporations, SWAC earned an excellent reputation. Today, SWAC continues its efforts to provide the best services to individuals with autism without compromise.
SWAC operates a well-equipped intervention, education, and training centre named SWAC School for Autism. Utilizing the most recent techniques, methods, and evidence-based practices, the school has a highly-structured program and emphasizes individualized care. The student-teacher ratio during training is 2:1 which is essential for individuals with autism. Emphasis is placed on developing communication and social skills, functional education, acceptable behaviour patterns, and self-help skills.
Each child with autism is an individual and each child’s needs are unique. With this in mind, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is carefully prepared for each SWAC student based on his or her interests, talents, skills, abilities, differences, and limitations.
SWAC began to raise awareness of autism across the country organizing numerous autism workshops and trainings in Dhaka, Khulna, Sylhet, Chittagong, Bogra, Pabna, Bandarban, Rangamati. In 2009, SWAC organized the Third South Asian Regional Conference on Autism which was the first International Conference on Autism in Bangladesh.
Autism awareness campaigns organized by SWAC had a positive impact on parents and professionals. SWAC invited experts from UK, USA, German, Switzerland, Finland, Australia, Japan, and India to train its teachers and parents. SWAC also conducted a training program for professionals such as doctors and professors (Child Health Institute, Institute of Mental Health, Holy Family Medical College and Hospital, Institute of Education and Research, etc.).
SWAC was actively involved with the Global Autism Public Health Initiatives Bangladesh chaired by Saima Wazed Hossain. SWAC is also a member of Neurodevelopmental Disability Protection Trust. SWAC management is also working closely with the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Jatiya Protibondhi Unnayan Foundation (JPUF).
In 2019, on the 12th World Autism Awareness Day, the Society for the Welfare of Autistic Children (SWAC) was recognized by the honourable Prime Minister as a successful organization working with autism. SWAC hopes this recognition will help them to develop its own rehabilitation centre, SWAC Village, a 1.43 acre dream project located at Kabirpur, Savar (1 km from BKSP, Savar).
The proposed multipurpose SWAC Village will combine under one roof a host of facilities and services for children, adolescents, and adults with autism. The current services which will be brought under one roof include a school, adult work and activity centre, dormitory for students and teachers, office space, gymnasium, auditorium, swimming pool, cafeteria, playground, teacher training centre, library, bakery, therapy room, computer lab, music room, art room, clinic and diagnostic centre, nursing facility, and early intervention centre, amongst other facilities.
SWAC is hopeful that some of its adult students will find suitable employment in the community outside of SWAC one day, but for most students the chances are slim due to lack of awareness, acceptance, and understanding of autism in society. Even though there is a 10% job quota for persons with disabilities in the job market, employers are not accommodating, flexible, willing, or prepared to implement this.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to run the program in a rented accommodation due to lack of space, attitudes of landlords and neighbours, and rising rent. It is absolutely imperative for SWAC to set up a centre of excellence on our own land where autistic adults can find their vocation, do real income-generating work, be creative and constructive, and pursue their own interests, abilities, and skills, and lead productive and meaningful lives in a safe and secure environment.
The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.