Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said on Monday that the central government will ask the Medical Council of India (MCI) to ensure that under-graduate and post-graduate medical curriculum includes autism, a development disorder in children.

During a discussion at a conference of the South Asian Autism Network here, Azad said he would also try to ensure that there is increased collaboration between ministries and different departments of the ministries in compiling data and training practices for professionals. Azad said the health ministry would ask state governments to collect data and compile and analyse it.

Inaugurating the South Asian Autism Network Conference in New Delhi UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi noted that nothing significant has been given to the disabilities sector. ‘I feel that formation of public policy in our countries has not kept pace. In the absence of adequate institutional support mechanism, the differently-abled remain deprived of their rights,’ Gandhi said.

Persons with disabilities (PwD) are not only 15% of the world’s population but also ‘the world’s largest minority. While the 2001 census suggests there are 20 million PwDs in our country, others claim the numbers could be as high as 60 million.

Seeking a greater and systematic approach on autism, she said people should come forward to help children afflicted with such disorders. ‘There are eight million people with autism and other development disorders in India. This calls for greater and more systematic approach on the issue,’ Gandhi added. She said mothers of children with autism and other development disorders suffer a lot by thinking about the future of their children. ‘Life-long afflicted children need life-long support. For this, we should come forward and help them,’ she said.

Autism is a developmental disorder characterised by communication difficulties, social and behavioural challenges and repetitive behaviours. Diagnosis is difficult due to use of different criteria.

The International Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorder and Developmental Disabilities held in July 2011 at Dhaka was a momentous event in this regard, the minister said. The conference adopted a declaration committing itself to include ASD (Autism Spectrum Diseases) in all mainstream policies and programmes that address issues related to early childhood development.

India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Bhutan, Democratic Republic of Korea, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste were the countries which took part in the conference.

With inputs from IANS