This blog post was written by Her Excellency First Lady Mrs. Margareta Timofti, Wife of the President of the Republic of Moldova who is attending our Sixth Annual World Focus on Autism event this Thursday, September 26th. Watch a live Ustream of the event here.
*World Autism Awareness Day 2013 in Moldova*
This year it was for the first time when the Republic of Moldova joined Autism Speaks in celebrating World Autism Awareness Day and the global Light It Up Blue campaign on April 2. A series of events were organized during this day in Chisinau, among them an awareness campaign with distribution of information materials and a round table discussion organized by the Public Library “B. P. Hasdeu”. Mrs. Alexandra Yuster UNICEF representative had a speech about the importance of early detection and intervention at this round table. Also, a press conference was organized by the International Women’s Club of Moldova and at the end of the day about 100 blue sky lanterns were launched at the Arch of Triumph in Chisinau. A few days after, a charity sales exhibition “Night of Art 2013” was organized. The main beneficiary of this event was the NGO “SOS Autism” from Moldova to develop a Resource Centre in this field.
By organizing these types of awareness events people have the opportunity to get informed about what this disorder is and how it occurs and learn that early detection and timely intervention is crucial as it offers good chances of recuperation.
As the First Lady of the Republic of Moldova, I decided to get actively involved in organizing the World Autism Awareness Day in Moldova and to provide all my support to the organizations working in this field. Actually, I received an invitation from Autism Speaks to join celebration of World Autism Awareness Day and the global Light It Up Blue campaign on April 2 and I decided immediately that I have to offer my support to autistic children especially because there are real chances for their recuperation if the disorder is diagnosed and addressed on time. My main concern as First Lady is to help people in need, and I cannot help standing aside when it comes to children.
As the number of children affected worldwide by autism is increasing every year there is no time to waste. Action should be taken immediately.
However, the specific of this problem is a little bit different in Moldova, as it seems that the number of autistic patients is not very high. Taking a look at the statistics in the neighboring countries, which show high numbers of autistic patients, I asked myself whether the situation is better in Moldova or something is wrong here. After I did a small research I learned why this is like this. First, there is no precise statistics about the number of autistic persons in the Republic of Moldova. The number of registered autistic individuals is approximately 150; however, the number is much higher in reality. Why? This is due to: low awareness among parents about the disorder, lack of autism screening, insufficient specialized medical staff and proper diagnostic tools to correctly and timely diagnose children affected by autism, absence of a specialized hospital or a center for rehabilitation of such children and also parents’ unwillingness to register their children at the Psychiatric Hospital, which is the only medical institution dealing with diagnosis of autism in our country. Therefore, autism is still perceived by many of our fellows as a mental disorder rather than a behavioral-developmental disorder.
Integration of these children in schools remains to be another challenge to be addressed. Autistic children remain outside of the education system and parents need to spend significant amounts of money for their rehabilitation and education at home or in private institutions. Usually many of them are included in special schools for children with disabilities. However, starting with this academic year, the autistic children are going to be integrated in schools and kindergartens, based on an agreement between the Ministry of Education and NGO “SOS Autism” dated March 7, 2013 which provides for the universal right to compulsory education by providing equal opportunities to quality education for every child. It will not be easy but it is an important step that was undertaken for the benefit of these children. Classes that will have up to 5 pupils with disabilities, including those with autism will be allocated one support educator to help the children and teachers.
Another important step forward is that a number of 15 specialized therapists have been trained this summer to offer support services to autistic children within the newly established Resource Centre for children with autism in the Republic of Moldova. These specialists have been trained by an internationally certified team and with the financial support of Rotary Club Bucharest. The Centre is being renovated at the moment and we do believe it will soon be operational. With the help of this Resource Centre we plan to broaden the support services provided to autistic children and their families, to create conditions for development of multidisciplinary teams of professionals, educators, therapists, physicians, volunteers, etc.
Then, it is important that we have 2 NGOs working in this field in Moldova right now. I do hope that they will cooperate between them and will have a healthy competition in providing better support services for autistic children.
Moldova is an emerging country, which is on its way towards acceding to the European Union. We really do hope that we will benefit of European experience in the field of autism, too. Now, we are looking forward to combine our forces in identifying projects to be implemented in this area to help those suffering from autism. Experience exchange with other countries would be only of a great benefit for our country.