AAHAN was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was around five years old he also had a speech impairment and did not interact with others like children do. Although he attended regular school, he could not make friends. In fact, the young boy could not connect with people around him, including his family members. The doctors had said that he wouldn’t make it past class 2. But Aahan did and reached Class 10.

Many like Aahan on the autism spectrum have overcome the odds with the efforts of their parents, teachers and expert guidance. Nurturing mothers have been instrumental in the growth and development of their children with autism.

Autism is the world’s third most common developmental disorder. It is a neurological condition generally occurring by the age of three. The disability is marked by differences in development, usually in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction and engaging in repetitive behaviour. Also known as a spectrum disorder, autism’s severity varies from a mild learning and social disability to multiple difficulties and often strange behaviour. The condition also leads to qualitative impairments and uneven skill development.

World Autism Awareness Day - GiveIndia Blog

Autism in India

An estimated 18 million people have autism in India. Statistics also reveal that the number of children in India diagnosed with autism is rising. Factors like low awareness, lack of basic facilities and improper diagnosis, among others, have contributed to a staggering increase in autism cases in the country. 

Around 1% to 1.5% of children in the age group of 2-9 years are affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Approximately 10% of school-going children have been diagnosed with mild to severe learning challenges. A major reason for the delay in diagnosis is that the condition is often misinterpreted as mental retardation or even schizophrenia. With the rapid advancement of technology, in-depth medical research is being carried out to determine the causes of ASD.

As the world celebrated Autism Awareness Day, here’s a look at the top 5 Indian NGOs making huge strides in creating a more inclusive world for people with autism.

1. Action for Autism

Action for Autism (AFA) pioneered the autism movement in South Asia and strives to access the rights of individuals with autism and their families. The key areas of AFA’s work are education, awareness, research, training, and advocacy. They direct their efforts to facilitate a barrier-free environment that empowers persons with autism, and their families. The NGO also acts as a catalyst to enable persons with autism to live as fully participating members of society. AFA has helped over 16,000 families in the past decade.

AFA also partners with other organisations to increase acceptance and inclusivity for individuals with autism. AFA has also successfully lobbied to include autism in primary disability legislation. It has been instrumental in including autism in the working draft of the Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2011.

World Autism Awareness Day - Action for Autism (AFA)

2. Swabodhini Charitable Trust

The trust is dedicated to changing the lives of children on the autism spectrum. Established in 1989 in Chennai, Swabodhini’s efforts empower and instill self-confidence in children with special needs through quality education, structured training and therapy services. The organisation helps individuals with autism to reach their potential through all-around development. It enables them to lead an independent life with dignity in mainstream society.

They started by helping four children and now assist and enable over 60 differently abled students. The Swabodhini Special School provides special education and training, speech, and occupational therapy services.

World Autism Awareness Day - Swabodhini Charitable Trust

3. Centre for Autism & other Disabilities Rehabilitation Research & Education

CADRRE was founded in 2017 to care for children on the autism spectrum. It was the first school in Kerala to offer an individualised programme focusing on academics, therapy, and life skills exclusively for students with autism and related disabilities. Their aim is to significantly change the lives of children affected with ASD through family-centred holistic care and best practice principles. Their inclusive approach and a range of services focus on creating a conducive environment in society where persons with ASD can realize their full potential.

It imparts functional academics, activities of daily living and vocational skills such as block and screen printing, soap making, decoupage, woodwork, cooking, and pottery to its students. Ayurveda, yoga, music therapy, art therapy, dance and movement therapy along with conventional therapy are provided to the students.

World Autism Awareness Day - Centre for Autism & other Disabilities Rehabilitation Research & Education

4. Arvind Foundation

Arvind Foundation is a charitable organisation that aims to provide equal opportunities and bring independent, comprehensive and curative education to underprivileged children with special needs. This includes children challenged with cerebral palsy, autism, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Down’s syndrome and other neurological disorders.

It educates individuals with special needs, equipping them with life skills and training them to be as independent as possible. The foundation is bringing them closer to a meaningful and respectful adulthood. Today, six day-care centres assist nearly 140 children and young adults with special needs.

World Autism Awareness Day - Arvind Foundation

5. Vasantham School and Home for People with Special Needs

Vasantham is a school and home for individuals with special needs. It was founded in 1989 and has empowered thousands of individuals and their families. Services include special education, communication therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, vocational training, yoga, dance, music and play.

These services are tailored to each student’s interests and needs. Vasantham relies on support from well-wishers and organizations. It also raises awareness about developmental disorders.

World Autism Awareness Day - Vasantham School and Home for People with Special Needs

Awareness about living with someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder is low. It is hard to tell if someone has autism just by looking at them, making it challenging to interact with them.

Evidence-based therapy programs help autistic children’s development, and the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome for the child, family and community. Early intervention and effective policy-making can help address the needs of autistic children and integrate them into mainstream society.

This article was updated in May 2023.

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