THE EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM
We have to send him to kindergarten, and later to school. All public kindergartens refused to admit him. They would not give the reason. My son needs full-time assistance, which is only available in private kindergartens that we cannot afford. I am planning to send him to school when he’s 7 years old”.
The head of NGO “Together and Healthy” Aytan Eynalova does not expect the government to launch an inclusive education program in Azerbaijan in the nearest future. According to Eynalova, “The early intervention age for children with autism is 0-3 years old. They have to get education for at least 20-25 hours, maximum 40 hours per week. Only after our appeal to Parliament was autism included in 2015 on the list of the degree of disability. Before then we could not demand special care from government. However, after that change in the legislation we started to advocate for an inclusive education program. We don’t even know exactly how many people have autism in the country; we can only say it’s approximately 4,000-6,000.”
The Azerbaijan Ministry of Education created programs for disabled children under “Azerbaijan 2020: Vision of the future” development concept: “The State Strategy for Development of Education". At the same time, the ministry prepared special programfor 2016-2023 years and the President of Azerbaijan approved the program in January 2015.
“Autism Child Development cCenter” speech therapist Aya Karimlisays says children with autism have to start education at age 2-3. “In they do, their speech will improve faster. Only intensive trainings can help them. Children with autism cannot learn at home independently; they need special assistance.”
Psychologist Vapha Shirinova says teachers have to create conditions so children with autism can learn: “If the whole class is doing difficult exercise, for example if the task is to paint flowers, the task for children with autism should be to paint what they would like to paint.”
Eynalova says there are three NGOs targeting children with autism in Baku serving up to 120 children in total (1, 2, 3). But the situation is much different in the regions of Azerbaijan. Some families come to these NGOs from Tavus, Shamkir and Hajigabul, more than four hours by car and six hours by bus. Some of those families are forced to settle in the capital of Baku to provide their child with proper education.
“The Horse Therapy” project manager Nazakat Zeynally says: “Lack of experts in the regions hinders accurate diagnosis. At some hospitals autism is still diagnosed as mental retardation. Many parents do not agree with the diagnosis, and some come to Baku for double-checking.”
The research about education services for children with disabilities in Azerbaijan shows that the schools in Shaki and Yevlax implemented inclusive curricula on their own. Officially there are two pilot schools in Azerbaijan with inclusive classes.
The state pilot project for inclusive education started in 2015 with four first-grade classes at School No. 220 and School No. 138 in Baku. The Baku office of UNICEF provided a German specialist for the program. There are more than 62 000 children under age of 18 with disabilities.
There are several public services for children with special needs. “Horse therapy” is one of those and this method is widely used for children with autism. It helps to develop their communication skills, and helps them to learn.