Call for inclusive education for children with autism

Burkina Faso's ABAPE Centre marks World Autism Awareness Day - by Emmanuel Kansié
Photo: Boukari Pamtaba of ABAPE explains the situation of autistic children in the Burkinabé education system

On 2 April, the Burkinabé Association for Psychological Support and Childcare (ABAPE), one of Light for the World's partners in Burkina Faso, marked World Autism Awareness Day with a very well attended press conference aimed at to raising public awareness on the situation of children with autism in Burkina Faso and calling for concrete actions for their education.

Thirty-four invited journalists from television, radio, print, and online media met with parents who were willing to testify to the positive impact of the ABAPE Centre's activities on their children's lives in the courtyardof ABAPE’s Centre. "Our goal", said Boukari Pamtaba, President of the association, "is to lift up the voices of the voiceless, that is to say children with autism and their parents in distress". From the definition of the autistic child to the extent of the phenomenon in the world and in Burkina Faso, the lecturer created strong emotions and drew the attention of journalists through powerful testimonies of the parents of autistic children. Boukari Pamtaba defined autistic children as having disorders in communication, behavior and social interaction. Because of these disorders, they face difficulties integrating into the classical system of schooling. According to the WHO, 1 in 160 children worldwide suffers from an autism spectrum disorder. In Burkina Faso, there are no figures to assess the extent of the phenomenon. The General Census of Children with Disabilities in Burkina Faso carried out in 2014 revealed 79,617 children with disabilities including 7,760 children with hearing and language disabilities. Many of them are excluded from the school system.

ABAPE Centre, an emerging inclusive school 

Supported by LIGHT FOR THE WORLD, the ABAPE Centre welcomes children with autism and intellectual disability aged 2 to 10 years. The Centre develops pedagogical, psychometric, and psycho-educational activities to help them integrate into the ordinary education system. As of this year, the Centre serves 52 children with disabilities, including 46 with autism. According to Boukari Pamtaba, 90% of them originally attended mainstream schools but were rejected because of their autism. Hence the theme the international day of autism this year in Burkina Faso is “Promoting inclusive education through appropriate care”. Boukari Pamtaba, while thanking LIGHT FOR THE WORLD for its valuable support, told the story of an autistic child who was dismissed from a school after only three months when the teacher realized that the child was autistic. "This made the child's mother sad. She told me about the problem, and I in turn told teachers that the place of the child is i school and not at home. I promised to assist the school in supervising the child. After two months, the school called me to say that the child has totally changed, "he said. For Pamtaba, it is important to arrange supervision of children with autism within the current educational system. "The government advocates education for all by 2030. But I think that there will not be a genuine education for all unless we have adequate care for autistic children", Mr. Pamtaba explained. 

He presented the journalists with the results of an ongoing experimental project. Six children with autism were moved to a school in Ouagadougou where psychologists provide assistance to teachers. At the end of three years, one of the six children had become the best student of the class with a score of 8 out of 10 of the annual average. For the other children with autism, the lowest average was 5 in 10. Based on these results, Mr. Pamtaba called on the government and the highest level education authorities to better include autistic children into the education system.