The head of a Turkish parliamentary investigation commission, responsible from finding solutions to the problems people with autism and Down syndrome face, has emphasized the need for raising awareness and knowledge about autism, saying there are people in Turkey who "even confuse autism with obesity."
"Families are not even aware of it [autism]; they do not know about it. There are those who even confuse autism with obesity. But this [autism] is a fact of life. And what children with special needs require is education. Early diagnosis, early intervention and early education are very important," Kemal Çelik was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu Agency on Nov. 15.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects approximately 1 in 59 children, Çelik said, referring to analyses conducted worldwide.
Since its establishment last year, the special parliamentary investigation commission on autism has been listening to the problems the families affected by autism and Down syndrome are facing, said Çelik. Accordingly, what families need the most is equal access to education for their children, he said.
Çelik himself is a parent of a 11-year-old child with autism spectrum disorder, which prompted him to become a member of this commission. His child has been also diagnosed with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, Çelik said.
The commission head, also a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said speaking from experience, families of children with special needs are "very sensitive" about other families rejecting them.
Çelik has also touched upon the recent reports of a group of parents in the Central Anatolian province of Aksaray booing children with autism in protest after a primary school opened special education classes.
Reports said that the parents did not want the children with autism to share the school with their own children.
In the aftermath of this incident, Education Minister Ziya Selçuk had announced that the ministry sent inspectors from Ankara to analyze the case and the principal of the school was suspended from duty temporarily. According to various media outlets, a total of 334 students, including 41 autistic children, are attending that school.
Çelik said that their investigation commission had also sent a team to the relevant school to conduct an analysis. He said that the incident had arisen due to a "lack of awareness" on autism, refuting claims that the parents "booed" the autistic children.
"A small dispute occurred, which was later exaggerated; it has been said that [children] were booed. And when someone wrote that on social media, all of the associations, NGOs caused a stir," he said.
"Aksaray people are totally innocent. We cannot blame Aksaray public since the incident occurred in Aksaray," Çelik said.