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Religious education is now compulsory for autistic students

ISTANBUL – Daily news with wires | 10/17/2010 12:00:00 AM |

An education ministry board has said autistic students will have compulsory religion classes at the expense of one hour of the physical education that is critical to their development. Experts on autistic children’s education are against the decision, saying the children will not be able to comprehend the abstract concepts of religion

The wing of the Turkish Education Ministry responsible for setting school curriculum, education material and timetable schedules has said autistic students must begin attending compulsory religion classes, daily Radikal reported Sunday.

Under current arrangements, autistic students in Turkey are educated at private institutions run by the Education Ministry. According to a Sept. 28 directive from the ministry’s Discipline and Education Board, physical education classes autistic students will receive are to be reduced by one hour a week and replaced with compulsory religion classes.

“This decision cannot be applied. Teachers will put lots of labor into it, but they will not succeed,” said Sevinç Eraslan, one of the first experts in Turkey to work with children requiring special education.

According to the former special education timetable, in the first three years of an autistic child’s schooling physical education is taught in five one-hour classes per week, which is reduced to four at upper levels. Physical education is critically important for autistic childrens’ development.

Merdan Tufan, head of the ministry’s Discipline and Education Board, said he does not have all the relevant information regarding the change. However İrfan Aycan, head of unit responsible for religious education said he had not been informed of the change. “My opinion regarding this change was not sought and I have not been informed about change,” he said. The new schedule was approved by deputy head of the Discipline and Education Board Halil Aşıcı.

The curriculum of religion classes for autistic children has not yet been clarified, while it also remains uncertain who would teach the subject. The note on the schedule says that until the curriculum is prepared teachers would choose issues from the current curriculum.

[HH] Problems teaching religion to the autistic

“Autistic children live in their inner worlds and cannot communicate with outside world,” said Eraslan. “Their level of intellectual perception is very low.”

“To those students you cannot teach how to talk or to communicate, how can we teach religion?”

Eraslan agreed. “Autistic children cannot understand abstract concepts. Religion is all about abstract concepts,” she said.

Feridun Özdeş, another special education expert agreed. “Autistic children have serious difficulties in their communication with the real world. Religion is abstract and it is about consciousness,” he said.

She also touched upon the issue of reducing the hours of physical education classes. “Those children’s muscles are under developed and their motor abilities are weak,” she said explaining why physical education classes were critical for them.  

Autism has no medical treatment but children with the condition can be incorporated into daily life through special training programs. It is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before the age of three that adversely affects a child's educational performance.

Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines and unusual responses to sensory experiences.

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