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Hope prevails in nine Cuban schools comprehensively addressing autism

cuba curso escolarThe hermetic world of children with autistic spectrum disorders, full of enigmas, is brightened with the light of hope, thanks to a heavy dose of love, affection, and dedication from staff working at the country’s educational institutions specialized in supporting them.

The Héroes del Moncada School is one of these, located in a historic mansion under the sponsorship of the Camagüey City Historian’s Office, which assumed the remodeling of the building and maintains close ties with students here via its extensive network of cultural institutions.

The school has occupied the stately manor, located near centrally located Agramonte Park, since conditions were created here, four years ago, to meet the requirements of the teaching-learning, psycho-pedagogical process inherent in this type of special education program.

The school is the only one its kind in the province, and serves children from throughout the region, with a current enrollment of 24 children (21 boys and three girls), who are carefully attended by 40 members of the staff which includes teachers, specialists, educational aides, and support personnel.

The children’s parents, facing the pain of having a child with this neurological disorder, are the first to express their gratitude for the sensitivity and dedication they witness in the arduous, daily work done at the school, that requires infinite patience and a high level of professional qualification.


The capital renovation process at theHéroes del Moncada was conducted in three stages and included work on the lobby, seven classrooms, the kitchen, dining room, computer lab, library, nurse’s office, bathrooms, teaching departments, as well as a home economics and handicrafts workshop.

Staff director Yudelis Pérez Carlos explained, “Given that it was an old building, we had to re-distribute the physical space, provide better lighting and ventilation conditions, and adding areas for alternative therapies, as well, in order to meet the specific needs of students.”

A quick tour of the institution was enough to make clear the careful design of each of the classrooms, featuring mirrors for the work of speech therapists and photographs identifying teachers, aides, and the students themselves, to better orient the children inside the school.

The director reported that through international cooperation projects, expected soon is specialized equipment to support diagnoses, which should in turn contribute to improving the quality of life of these youngsters and their later preparation for independence as adults.

“Today,” Pérez continued, “we enjoy this beautiful, functional school, the product of the efforts and perseverance of workers in the Historian’s Office, who put their intelligence and their hearts into this project of love that honors and dignifies them before society.”


Concerned about certain behaviors exhibited by their children, that could indicate autism, parents approach the school in search of information. The first step in such cases, is an evaluation by the Diagnostic and Orientation Center (CDO), and next a multi-disciplinary consultation meeting to decide how to proceed.

The director explains, “Practice has shown that intervention beginning at an early age, along with the application of inclusive educational models, constitutes the best route to inserting these children in the social environment. Thus the vital importance of making an early diagnosis.”

The right combination of the two factors contributes to a more rapid adjustment by the children to social interaction with unknown persons in open spaces. Thus the importance of regular outings around the city, visits to museums, participation in cultural events, as well as therapy with horses and other animals.

No less vital is the almost daily interaction with parents, always attentive to their children’s educational progress and acquisition of skills, which they complement in the home with exercises and homework that are explained to them, to give continuity to the school’s educational process.

“Depending on the needs families may have,” Pérez continued, “every month we additionally hold training days with the participation of specialists in neurology, psychology, and juvenile psychiatry to share new knowledge and clarify any questions parents have about their child’s treatment.”


Teacher Daidé Alejo Oquendo has more than 40 years’ experience in the classroom, with a good portion of this in special education, “Work,” she says, “that requires putting into practice skills, strategies and educational responses that allow the autistic child to experience better development and evolution.”

“This job,” she continued, “requires a great deal of patience and love for what you are doing, being flexible, attempting to reach your goals without having to impose anything on the children, but rather joining them in their concerns and needs, and meeting the selected objective via personalized attention.”

Daidé is in charge of the home economics workshop, one the key areas where autistic children are prepared for life. Thus, all students in the school spend time with her, learning how to make a bed, dress themselves and bathe, or make a salad, wash dishes, sweep and dust the furniture in a room.

“The purpose,” she adds, “is to contribute to breaking the self-isolation in which they are immersed, improving verbal and non-verbal expression, building social relations and improve, as much as possible, communication and the ability to live with others, two of the principal problems that generally affect them.”

This will be one more reason for staff at the Héroes del Moncada School to celebrate International Autism Awareness Day, April 2, alongside all of society, as another opportunity to reflect and build understanding of a disorder that requires a special dose of tenderness.


-A total of 435 special education schools exist in Cuba, with an enrollment of some 33,639 girls, boys, and adolescents. Of this number, 443 students (199 female and 244 male) exhibit autistic spectrum disorders.

-There are nine schools specifically focused on comprehensively assistance for autistic children: La Habana (4), Pinar del Río (1), Holguín (1), Santiago de Cuba (1) Cienfuegos (1) and Camagüey (1).

These boys, girls, and adolescents do not only receive support in these comprehensive institutions, but also in other specific centers where communication and intellectual disabilities are addressed, and in the general education system where they can also be served.

-Some 256 students identified as having autistic spectrum disorders attend general education schools in Cuba, and receive comprehensive attention in an inclusive environment.

This disorder, which appears with more frequency among boys than girls, is defined by the inability to establish habitual contact with other persons. These children may exhibit a variety of indicators of autism that include difficulty speaking and avoidance of eye contact. They often do not play with peers, cannot control their emotions, are upset by changes in daily routines and easily distracted, make repetitive movements with their hands or heads, constantly rock their bodies, persist in specific activities or follow specific patterns of behavior.

(Source: Granma)

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