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Sec. State Em Chan Makara Requests Relevant Institutions to Expand Provision of Educational Services to Children With Autism

PHNOM PENH: The Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY), Em Chan Makara, has requested the ministries and institutions working in the field of education and other relevant partners, including in the private sector, to expand the promotion and provision of non-discriminatory education and special education classes in schools for autistic children.

Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Social Affairs, Vong Sauth, at the launch of the report on the situational analysis of people with autism in Cambodia on Friday, 27 May, Secretary of State Em Chan Makara said that currently, the number of specialized schools in both the public and private sectors that provide support for children with autism is still small. In addition, the knowledge of appropriate methods and tools for teaching children with autism is still lacking, leading to some schools being reluctant to enroll children with autism.

He continued that currently the gap between policy and implementation for the benefit of persons with disabilities, especially those with autism, is still limited, which makes understanding the situation of people with autism and their needs among the general public and other stakeholders, limited as well. Moreover, access to health and rehabilitation services is provided only in a few urban areas.

"In addition to the challenges mentioned above, the Royal Government is also concerned about the legacy of families with autistic people," said the MoVY Secretary of State. "The question is, who can an autistic person rely on when parents or family abandon them, or when their parents die, because we do not yet have a center to continue looking after them.”

The Second Secretary of the Australian Embassy in Cambodia, Connor Floyd, said that Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a diverse group of conditions. Characteristics may be detected in early childhood, but are often not diagnosed until much later. People with Autism are often subject to stigma and discrimination, including unjust deprivation of health care, education and opportunities to engage and participate in their communities.

Connor Floyd added, "A particular challenge for Cambodia is further exacerbated by the absence and availability of specialized professions, such as occupational therapists, speech therapists and specialized teachers.”

In this regard, Secretary of State Em Chan Makara, proposed to promote professional training of people with autism so that they have the skills to make their own income and stand on their own feet when they have no family there to support them.

He continued that provinces with rehabilitation centers should consider setting up rehabilitation labor programs, including mobile medical rehabilitation, to cover provinces that do not yet have rehabilitation centers so that people with autism can receive quality health care and rehabilitation services and promote awareness of autism situation in Cambodia through commemorating the national and international day, through social media, ministries, institutions, local authorities, local communities, schools and families, so that they can provide efficient services in accordance with their needs.

The Secretary of State also reminded and requested the ministries, institutions, and private sector actors that have not yet recruited persons with disabilities in their workforce, to comply with the quota set by national law and rush recruiting by giving priority to those with autism.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one among 160 children worldwide has autism. Overall, the prevalence of autism in many low- and middle-income countries, including Cambodia, remains unclear.

In Cambodia, over the last 10 years, the disability sector has made significant progress, both in the formulation of policies and legal norms, and in the provision of support services, such as the new disability law, which is in a stage of finalization. In addition, the National Center for Persons with Disabilities Cambodia is currently under construction and scheduled to launch in 2023 as a place which will provide a variety of services, including rehabilitation services and vocational training services, for persons with disabilities, including those with autism.

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