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In Laos, HI is accompanying 200 children with autism along the road to education


Inclusion | Laos | PUBLISHED ON March 31st 2024
A woman embraces two children, a boy and a girl. Latsaphone, a teacher trained by HI who works with children like Junior, aged 8 (right) in a transitional class in Champassak province, Laos.

Latsaphone, a teacher trained by HI who works with children like Junior, aged 8 (right) in a transitional class in Champassak province, Laos. | © V. Teppalath / HI

HI is supporting the inclusion of children with developmental disabilities, including autism, in the provinces of Champasak and Houaphan.

Marginalised children

Since July 2021, HI’s teams in Laos have been running an inclusive education project called "Sowing the Seeds of Inclusion" (SOS-IE). The aim is give 200 children with autism spectrum disorders access to education in two provinces targeted by HI’s programme in Laos.

"In Laos, children with disabilities are completely marginalised, especially those with developmental disorders such as autism. They are not even enrolled in school, so they stay at home, deprived of their right to education," deplores Kiran Dattani Pitt, Inclusive Education Specialist with HI in Laos.

To achieve its aims, the project has provided training to two local associations, the Association for Autism (AFA) and the Intellectual Disability Association (IDA, and together they have carried out important awareness-raising work with education professionals and families.

"HI Laos promotes the right to education for children with disabilities and develops projects like this one to show that children with autism can also go to school and be educated", continues the specialist.

Defending their access to education

Raising awareness starts with training to give teachers the tools they need to adopt inclusive practices. The SOS-IE project teams also support parent self-help groups so they can defend their children's rights and support each other. As a result, children like Junior are now taught in 'transitional' classes to prepare them to move into 'ordinary' primary classes in the same school with pupils without disabilities.

“I feel like I’m his second mother”

Junior is 8 years old and lives in Champassak province. His parents had noticed early on that their little boy had difficulties communicating and interacting with others. Junior was unable to make eye contact and had great difficulty controlling his behaviour.
Living in a village targeted by the SOS-IE project, Junior benefited from initial screening with HI teams. The diagnosis revealed that he presented behaviours consistent with autism spectrum disorder.

In October 2023, a transitional class opened at the local school, and since then Junior has been attending every day. He has made remarkable progress, explains his teacher, Latsaphone:

"Junior is a very intelligent little boy who learns very quickly. On his first day, I taught him where to take off his shoes and when to eat his lunch. He remembered and was able to do it again the next day. He sometimes prepares our classroom by turning on the light or the fan. Even though he can't express himself in words, we understand each other. As I take care of him every day, I feel a bit like his second mother.”

Transitional class teachers are regularly monitored and supervised by HI's inclusive education specialists, local partners and provincial and district education authorities. There are currently two teachers working in each transitional class, and the number of children they can take on depends on the children's needs.

The different stages of support for children with developmental disorders such as autism, as part of the SOS-IE project:

  • Training teams from partner organisations to screen children for developmental disorders;
  • Implementing this screening in the target villages;
  • Ensuring more in-depth screening by health professionals, including an HI doctor, rehabilitation specialists and health staff from provincial and district health centres, to determine whether children need to be referred for rehabilitation or further health checks, and whether they require assistive devices;
  • Enrolling the children in transitional classes integrated into mainstream state schools once they have received all the support they need to attend school;
  • Once the children have adapted to school in the transitional classes, they can join their peers in a mainstream class, which will then be an inclusive class.

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