Yet despite the importing of such foreign techniques [ABA], which some experts say have slowly but surely begun to take root in Russia, few solutions exist for the crippling stereotypes and intolerance many sufferers and families face. If debates in the West are already tackling the ethical issue of predicting autism before birth, in Russia even the idea of autism is still nearly taboo.
Svetlana Budnitskaya, who as a senior manager for family and child affairs at the Charitable Fund “Joint” works with autistic children, recalls an incident during a recent visit to Kaliningrad, when a mother expressed to Budnitskaya her “shame” after her autistic child acted out in public.
“Someone just called the police and said, ‘Get this kid out of here,’” she says. “That hit me hard, because society is so unprepared for this, for how to treat these people. And instead of the mother simply accepting the child, the mother becomes socially embarrassed.”
In another instance, a note sent from the Moscow Aquarium last April to teachers who tried to organize a visit with a group of autistic children read: “Refused. Visitors do not like to see the disabled – it disappoints them. It is unacceptable.”
Perhaps the most appropriate, if unsettling, indicator of Russia’s uneasiness with the disorder is the lack of official statistics that keep track of the number of affected children in Russia. If applying researchers’ estimates that between two and 20 cases of autism appear per 20,000 children, Russia may be home to around 200,000 autistic children, according to the St. Petersburg-based Fathers and Sons Fund.
Even more worrying, however, is the open prejudice encountered from the most unlikely sources, including government officials. Sergei Buyankin, a Moscow city official, made headlines last May when he reportedly said, “Hitler buried kids like this in the ground,” while speaking about a local private school, St. George’s, which caters to special needs children.