Experts at a workshop on Thursday stressed strengthening skills and knowledge of parents and caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) aiming to effectively address autism in the country, reports BSS. The country does not have enough professional therapists to handle the cases of autistic children having their unique problems, so there is no alternative to strengthening the skilled and knowledge of parents and caregivers of autistic children, they said. International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) in partnership with the Foundation for Advancement of Innovations in Technology and Health, Bangladesh (faith Bangladesh) organised the workshop titled, ‘Autism Spectrum Disorders: Improving Children’s Ability to Talk and Mix with Peers’ at its Sasakawa auditorium in city’s Mohakhali. The workshop, which was a continuation of therapeutic practice programmes, was arranged to empower parents and caregivers raising children with ASD. It was designed to strengthen each child’s communication skills allowing them to reach their full potential. Deputy Executive Director of icddr,b Syed Monjurul Islam, Executive Director of Center for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) Major General (rtd) M Shafiq-ul-Islam, Executive Director of faith Bangladesh Nilufer Ahmed Karim, Head of the Technical Training Unit of icddr,b Dr Aftab Uddin and founder Director of SOCH India Malvika Samni, among others, spoke at the workshop. The speakers pointed out that the parents and close-relatives, who serve as caregivers to autistic children, should be provided with the particular knowledge and skills to administer them the occupational, speech and behavioral therapy, including educational and social service needs. Speaking as the chief guest, Syed Monjurul Islam said every parent or caregiver, particularly mothers of children having ASD, should be empowered with proper training to support their children in leading a normal life. Dr Aftab Uddin said tackling ASD requires many actors, from parents through providers to policymakers. However, he said, the brunt is borne by the parents of these special children as they spend 24/7 days with them. “Therefore, empowering parents/caregivers is essential, as is educating everyone in our society.” Urging the government to allocate more resources, Nilufer Ahmed said meeting the needs of special children is a multidisciplinary and multipurpose task. “In this regard, stakeholders from public, private, NGOs and INGOs, and donors need to come forward for building a trustworthy partnership and work together to address the growing burden of ASD in Bangladesh,” she said. US Ambassador in Dhaka Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat in a written message commended the programme and highlighted two important factors that are key for creating a positive environment for children with ASD. She said: “First, it is so important to fight the stigma associated with all Neurodevelopmental Disorders, or NDDs. Such stigma prevents people from seeking help to prevent or mitigate the effects of autism and other NDDs…Second, schools play a very important role in helping those with NDDs learn critical life skills, and also help these children learn and demonstrate respect, kindness, friendship and support.” The US envoy said the US government has collaborated with the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education of Bangladesh to develop a new early grade reading program worth over Taka 400 crore, which will focus on reaching children with disabilities. While ASD in general is recognised in Bangladesh, the number of cases is increasing day by day. The Ministry of Social Welfare estimates that there are more than 1.4 million people with ASD, which is one in every 500 children.