With World Autism Day in focus yesterday, it was a time to introspect on how little is still known about autism and the many thousands of cases that are still undiagnosed, especially in India. Like autism, there may be so many mental ailments which are deceptive and not easy to diagnose, because they do not have physical manifestations. Different organisations and professionals working in the field must try all they can to get the message to the public. It is heartening to note that autism is at least on the radar of the public here now, and we are taking baby steps towards more awareness.
Autism, and mental health at large, and its neglect is a huge issue in India. Just a couple of years ago, autism was little known or discussed in the Indian context. Even today, people with problems would rather seek advice from self-styled spiritual gurus, rather than seek professional help.
The first thing is recognition. One has to recognise the condition, or at least acknowledge that there is a problem. Only then can one move on to the next step, which is seeking help. Coming out of denial is vital, especially for the family.
There is still a lot of shame and stigma surrounding these ailments. This prevents people from seeking recourse for their problems from professionals. Small steps have been taken in this field. By and large, though, learning disabilities still need to be addressed by a broader base. Schools for children with special needs are out of reach for many parents. Some counsellors, though, need better training. We need to catch up with the West with regards to this.
In the end, marking days like this in whatever way is a way of building awareness. Let us banish ignorance and shame. With the Internet, it is not difficult to get at least some information about these illnesses and then, of course, add to our knowledge from reliable sources.
Mental health should be treated on par with physical health. Let’s start redressing that balance now.