Health experts call for inclusion of autism in MBBS syllabus

By Santosh Andhale

Mumbai,March 29(IANS): Doctors and NGOs want the Maharashtra University of Health Science (MUHS) to include autism in the MBBS syllabus.

Though the number of autism-affected children is rising, lack of awareness, even among paediatricians, is leading to under-reporting of cases, explain health experts. In fact, autism does not find mention in the MBBS syllabus, they say.

The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) says one in 68 children world-wide are autistic. Thanks to the poor reporting of cases, the exact number in India is not available.

Dr Samir Dalwai, National Chairperson, Indian Academy of Pediatrics (childhood disability group), says “in Mumbai alone, the number of children with special needs could run up to more than 5 lakh.”
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), autism spectrum disorders are a group of complex brain development disorders. This umbrella term covers conditions such as autism, childhood disintegrative disorder and Asperger’s syndrome.

These disorders are characterised by difficulties in social interaction and communication and a restricted and repetitive repertoire of interests and activities.

Recently, award-winning filmmaker Arunaraje Patil made an 80-minute documentary titled, Behind the Glass Wall, on children with autism.

“While I was doing research on the subject, I came across many school teachers, doctors and therapists and shockingly found that there is a lack of awareness among doctors about this subject, since it is not taught in MBBS course.

“So when parents approach doctors, they are misguided. The defence of many doctors is that autism is not taught in MBBS course,” says Patil.

“I am completely in shock when doctors are unaware about this disease. What about layman, then? Hence I’ve decided to write a letter to the vice-chancellor of MUHS, demanding that it should be added in the MBBS syllabus,” she said.

Says Dr Dalwai, “Finding therapists for such children is difficult. Doctors suggest different therapies, each of which is conducted at a different place. There’s a need to bring all expertise under one roof so that the children can get the better treatment. I hope the MUHS will consider our demand, looking the gravity of this subject.”

Dr Arun Jamkar, Vice-chancellor, MUHS, says: “We will definitely forward this demand to our board of studies. I hope they will revise the syllabus.”