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25 Aug, 2009 06:55

State help for Russian autistic children proves insufficient

In Russia there are 150,000 people affected with autism, and only a few places providing qualified treatment and support.

For the parents of children diagnosed with autism – a brain development disorder – their life ever after becomes a relentless battle.

“When I first learned of his disorder, I was told there were two ways to fight it – medical and educational,” recalls Oksana Kirillova, mother of an autistic child. “I didn’t want my child to go through drug treatment. And then I learnt there was a special centre which helps children like him and we decided that we would take my son there.”

Her son, Arseny, was three when he was diagnosed with autism. Now he's 11 years’ old, but has yet to say his first word.

Moscow's oldest and largest center for children with brain disorders has over 250 children, getting everything from general education to specialized treatment.

The center’s Yulia Zarubina has been working in the facility as a teacher for two decades and says the center’s experts know exactly what these children need.

“We have specialists of all types here. We take an individual approach to every child,” she says. “Some children are very hard to help because they have problems in their families. That’s why we also have psychological help for their parents.”

Despite the palpable demand for their activities, the center is struggling to stay open.

For years they've been financed by private donators – mostly from abroad. But as the financial crisis has gripped the planet, most of their sponsors have withdrawn their financial aid.

The center’s executive director says this year the Moscow government increased the center's funding. They’re happy with this measure, but it clearly isn’t enough. And even though parents pay a small sum for their children’s classes, much more is needed to continue.

“Due to the credit crunch, some parents cannot pay for their children’s treatment, but these children need several more years of classes to improve their condition,” explains the center’s executive director, Ekaterina Vladimirova. “And we will have to continue classes with them, even though we’re in a critical financial situation, because we have moral obligations with these kids.”

The question is how long these obligations will continue. With only a week left until the classes are supposed to restart, it is about $25,000 short of what is needed. After six years of attending classes at the centre, Arseny's condition has shown great improvement. His mother says that every visit to these classes brings her child a step closer to being like other kids, and she hates to think that Arseny could be deprived of that chance.

The centre is to resume its work in September, but the question on the minds of everyone working there is whether the classes will continue.

"Children with special needs cannot pay for themselves"

Without additional funding, the unique Center for Curative Pedagogics, which has 20 years of priceless experience working with autistic children, could cease to exist, says Ekaterina Lebedeva, who works at the center.

Lebedeva mentioned that “Mostly we live on foundation donations and charity. Moreover, most of the Russian families which have children with special needs have no opportunity to pay for their child, so the center has to be in constant search for money.”