The Special School for Disabled and Rehabilitation Center – SSDRC – is a non-government and non-profit making, registered educational centre for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
SSDRC was founded in October 2010 by philanthropist and campaigner Sabita Upreti with the goal of providing specialist education and therapy for deprived children and families in Nepal – a country where such services are in critically slight supply. Home to 45 children, the primary aim of the centre is to rehabilitate children with autism into the wider community, guided by the ethos that every individual with autism has the right to services that enhance their well-being and quality of life.
At SSDRC we believe that every autistic individual is unique and has their own needs, challenges and gifts. We work to discover and understand the strengths of every individual child, and work to develop the areas where they need the greatest attention.
Our mission is also to spread awareness about autism throughout Nepal. To help combat the taboos surrounding developmental delay and autism amongst families and the wider society, and to encourage people to pay attention to the symptoms of autism instead of hiding them. The earlier children are diagnosed, the better their future prospects. Everybody deserves to be heard and seen and reach their full potential.
In 2018, SSDRC began fundraising to move to a new permanent home in Chagunarayan Manicipality, Bhaktapur District, which will up the capacity to 60 children and guarantee the school’s existence for years to come.
As of early 2020, we are excited to announce that building is now under way!
SSDRC is always looking for enthusiastic and committed volunteers to help contribute towards our mission. Volunteers bring fresh ideas and energy and leave nourished and grounded. Working at SSDRC offers an unforgettable experience to anyone passing through Nepal, while we also welcome specialists who are able to share their expertise with our staff and students.
During their time with SSDRC, volunteers have the chance to interact and communicate directly with our children and teachers. Every day is new and different at SSDRC, though a typical volunteer’s day might include the following:
Autism is a developmental disorder characterised, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive and antisocial behaviours.
Initially identified in 1943, it was not until 2013 that the present autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis was defined – a gradual, umbrella scale which incorporates many existing developmental disorders, including autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Currently, one in 59 children in the USA are diagnosed with ASD, a rate it is believed would be replicated internationally if a similar level of professional services were in place.
However, autism was not recognised by authorities in Nepal until the early 2000s, which has only made the need yet more pronounced and grave – more than 400 children are currently on the waiting list to join SSDRC, one of just a handful of specialist educational centres in the country.
When Sabita Upreti first discovered an autistic child, chained up alone in a dark room, she knew her life was about to change. The next tragic child she encountered, locked up, unwashed, with nobody and nothing to engage with, made up her mind.
After seven years working as both a teacher, and an education journalist fighting for the rights of rural girls too often denied an education, Sabita joined Nepali humanitarian organisation the National Disabled Fund (NDF) in 2008 as a social worker - a role which took her across the country - and into Kathmandu’s slums, where she encountered conditions she never could have imagined.
“I encountered the worst case scenarios - children locked in rooms and sometimes even left alone with their feces and urine. It was then that I became determined to dedicate my life to the betterment of autistic children,” she remembers today.
That experience began the long journey which eventually led to the establishment of SSDRC. Her first step was convincing her parents to grant her the dowry they had saved for a future husband to set up the organisation. Then there was a long battle with the Nepali government, which didn’t recognise autism and see the need to licence a specialist centre. And then there were the parents who, due to a lack of awareness, resented Sabita’s intrusion into their lives. “Some parents even set a dog on us to force us to run away from their house,” she remembers. “The Nepal government also didn’t believe in opening such a school in Nepal. So, at first, denied registering our organisation smooth way. As a result, it consumed a long time to get legal approval.”
This is why, as well as finally setting up one of the country’s only specialist centres for autistic children, in October 2010, Sabita has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about autism in Nepal, emerging over the past decade as one of the country’s greatest experts on the subject, regularly appearing in domestic media and sitting on numerous government advisory boards.
“As well as our school, we are spreading autism awareness all over Nepal. Still in every step there are formidable challenges and problems to be dealt with. Financial shortage, insufficient dedication from skilled personnel in this field and societal biases are all still common.
“Our work is just beginning,” she adds, “but on the other hand, we’ve already achieved more than I ever imagined.”
At SSRDC children with autism and other special educational needs are taught by utilising a combination of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and Montessori Methods, tailored according to the nature of each child’s disability. We also use music and art to develop skills, delivered by our experienced staff. We mainly focus on children from 3 to 13-years-old but also offer various support programmes and vocational training for older teenagers and young adults.
Our therapeutic services include: speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, as well as sensory integration and music therapy. The children also go through regular medical and dental check-ups and have access to transportation services to and from school. A hot lunch is provided daily for the children and staff.
We also offer home visits, family training and counselling and complete a variety of community outings and extracurricular activities with our students.
In addition to the services offered to the students and their families, SSDRC staff deliver awareness campaigns throughout Nepal as well as special education teacher training.