Adventist church leaders in Bangladesh organized a union-wide campaign to celebrate World Autism Day on April 2. Students and staff from Adventist schools across the country, as well as leaders from the Bangladesh Adventist Union Mission (BAUM) in Dhaka, hosted parades, organized community discussions and visited families with autistic children.
These approximately 300 individuals united in an effort to raise local awareness and offer much-needed support for special needs families in partnership with the Society for the Welfare of Autistic Children. In some communities, special needs children such as those with autism are stigmatized in spite of the country’s ongoing efforts to provided needed assistance.
This year Adventist joined these efforts with a combination of large-scale awareness programs such as multiple Adventist-hosted parades and community discussions held in various cities and towns in Bangladesh. The parades provide an opportunity to gain attention for awareness programs and bring autism education to those who might not attend awareness training. The discussion programs offer up-to-date information about autism and how communities can better meet the needs of autistic children and adults. They are also opportunities to encourage inclusion rather than shunning, particularly in communities that may not yet fully accept those with special needs.
To model how individuals can support special needs families, Adventist leaders visited autistic children and their families in their homes. They brought gifts and clothing. While these were welcomed, the parents seemed to most appreciate the time spent listening to their experiences and challenges as they seek acceptance and support in their communities.
For Mahuya Roy, BAUM Special Needs Ministry Coordinator, it strengthened her resolve to encourage Adventists to act on behalf of these families. “Bangladesh may be a developing country but the autism rate is increasing here,” she said. “As a church, we must each do what we can to raise awareness so we can encourage acceptance, understanding and love for these special children,” she added.
Church administrators such as BAUM President Myun Ju Lee agree. “We must do as much as possible for the autistic children of our church and our society,” he urged. This was his motivation for helping to lead BAUM’s autism awareness parade in Dhaka.
According to Larry Evans, Assistant to the General Conference President for the Deaf and Special Needs Ministries, this first-ever autism awareness event in Bangladesh is significant not only for future special needs ministry, but for the focus of local churches and members. “Your church, your community, will never be able to create a culture that will be perfect for every child or every adult with every conceivable special need. But every church and community can do something to welcome more families impacted by a disability or special need—including autism,” he encouraged.
Bangladesh is home to almost 30,000 Seventh-day Adventist church members in over 120 churches and one of the 14 countries in the Southern Asia-Pacific Division.