The number of identified cases of autism in children in Kazakhstan has increased fivefold over the past 7 years. In the Republic of Kazakhstan according to information of the Ministry of Education (until June, 2022 of the Ministry of Education and Science) there are more than 8,000 children with autism, and according to the Ministry of Health the figure was about 5,000 children as of December 31, 2021.

According to independent estimates by Dr. Eric Von Bonn, director of the Autism Institute at Oregon State University (USA), in Kazakhstan there are 59,000 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to the official data of the international organization “Autism Speaks”, in 2020 every 54 children in the world have been diagnosed with autism. If one was to rely on this statistic, in Kazakhstan more than 116,000 children under the age of 18 have ASD, suggesting that the official figures may be under representative.

In Kazakhstan, the issue of autism falls under the jurisdiction of three ministries – the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and the Ministry of Education and there is already different data on the number of children with ASD in Kazakhstan.

In the initial assessment of a child with ASD, parents face problems such as late diagnosis, lack of information and specialists, and societal prejudice. The latter directly affects and complicates the collection of statistical data, as parents of children with ASD at an early stage often deny the diagnosis, do not register with doctors in time and the child is not listed anywhere as a child with ASD until preschool age.

In Kazakh health care institutions it is necessary to introduce a system of early diagnosis of ASD recognized at the international level as the “Gold Standard” – ADOS. As practice in Kazakhstan demonstrates, parents more often learn that a child has ASD not from doctors, but from specialists working in the field of correctional care, or from parents raising the children with the same diagnosis.

Owing to the persistence of families and non-governmental organizations, currently a system of education of children with ASD in schools has been established. More than eighty amendments have been made to the laws of Kazakhstan, in particular to the Law “On Education”, which allows children to be fully educated in the system of inclusive learning. In many schools in Kazakhstan, an international standard system of inclusive education has been implemented, inclusion support rooms have been opened, specialist teaching assistants have been introduced, psychologists, speech therapists, and defectologists also work with children. The state, together with private structures, develops programs to provide district and rural schools with the conditions of inclusive education.

The next stage is to transmit inclusive education system to secondary and higher educational organizations. Likewise, it requires alterations at the legislative level, preparation of educational institutions for admission of people with ASD, simplification of entrance exams to colleges and higher educational institutions and other related issues.

Regarding further employment of people with ASD, it is worth clarifying that in Kazakhstan there is a gradation of disability into first, second and third degrees. Since 2021, the diagnosis of autism has been moved to the second group of disability, without considering individual and intellectual abilities, self-care skills, etc. This means that upon reaching the age of 18, a person with ASD is automatically recognized as capable and therefore can lead an independent life and work. However, in order to employ people with ASD, it is essential to create workplaces with appropriate working conditions, determine the scope of their activities, introduce occupations and professions.

In recent years, support centers for children with ASD have paid attention to the physical development of children, and many centers incorporate physical therapy and sports activities. Sport is one of the important aspects in the life of all children, especially of children with mental disabilities, who in most cases have problems with gross and fine motor skills and body coordination.

For example, the sports-academic centre “Qadam special school” provides comprehensive support for children and teenagers – academic program includes preparation of children for inclusive education in school, after-school and sports program, where children play sports and attend various sections on a daily basis. Moreover, the program in “Qadam special school” is not limited only to academic knowledge, the centre conducts classes in social skills, music, drawing and socialization. In short, we attempt to cover all aspects of a child’s development and facilitate his comfortable adaptation in society. The centre has launched a rock-climbing section for children with ASD, a tennis section and in winter more than 20 children of the centre learned to skate and ski.

Sports improve the quality of life for the child and family, increasing not only the child’s physical activity and endurance, but also his academic performance and socialization. Moreover, the lives of families raising children with ASD become more diverse, which is the goal of our centre.
In Kazakhstan, sports falls under the Ministry of Culture and Sports. Unfortuantely, mass sport in Kazakhstan does not consider people with mental disabilities, and sports people with ASD cannot be participants of neither the Olympics nor the Paralympics. As for the development of sports in the country as a whole, it is necessary to popularize it among children and adults with ASD, with the participation of government programs in the form of training specialists, advising sports federations for people with mental disabilities, subsidies, support and provision in general.

It should be understood that when sending a child with ASD to sports sections, which in particular take place in the form of group classes, the presence of a specialist trained coach is required.

As noted above, the issues of children with ASD in Kazakhstan fall under the jurisdiction of three ministries, and if you include the Ministry of Culture and Sports, then four. Each ministry develops its own programs, however it would be more effective to establish a single body covering the functions of all ministries. The objectives of this body would be as follows – to maintain proper and more accurate statistics; to enhance the identification of specific data on the demand for specialists and institutions; to organize negotiations with non-governmental organizations, parents of children with ASD and government agencies at various levels.

First and foremost, it is crucial to encourage children with ASD, taking into account their characteristics, capabilities and potential. Creating a system where parents of children with ASD can choose correctional centres, sports clubs and other educational institutions for their child with the funds allocated by the state would be the most fair and exemplary approach.

A child with ASD can be taught everything, if the support is timely and judicious. It is necessary to develop and teach these children comprehensively, in a word, all the colours of the rainbow should be present.

by Mazhen Aysulu Berikkyzy, Founder of the Qadam Special School Sports and Academic Center and Brand ambassador of “Qadam special school” and Nurlan Munbaev, Professor of Econometrics, Guardian of the Eurasian Creative Guild