“I’m four and a half years old,” declared Patrik cheerfully and proudly. Patrik has an autism spectre disorder but that is not what defines him. Autism spectre disorders affect people's behaviour and the way they interact with others.
Patrik's mum, Ivana, describes him as an affectionate and spirited boy who is the centre of their family. “He is a child who gets lots of attention from our whole family and from other people who know him. To those who do not, we try to explain that he is a wonderful child who just needs a little bit more attention and understanding than other children.” She admits however, that sometimes it is difficult for her to understand his needs and feelings because Patrik finds it hard to express himself through words.
Besides attending regular pre-school, Patrik also spends time at a kindergarten in a specialist Centre for Children with Autism in Zagreb. “I like going to kindergarten. I like to play with my friends,” he tells us. For children with developmental difficulties, going to kindergarten and working with trained educators is an important part of early intervention and a way to give children a chance to fulfil the potential they hold. Ivana is very happy Patrik and other children like him now have access to devices and equipment for assisted communication in the Centre's kindergarten.
“This is essential for children on the autism spectrum,” Ivana says. “Communicators make everyday situations, such as asking for a drink or some food, going to the toilet or expressing one's feelings, much easier. That improves the entire family's quality of life. I believe that devices like these should be distributed to every child on the autism spectrum as a necessary means of communication.”
UNICEF has ensured training and essential equipment for assisted communication to 32 institutions across Croatia as part of a $283,000 (USD) programme. To date, 5,000 children have received this assistance. As well as working with trained communicators at the kindergarten, the children also learn to use specially-programmed tablet computers in order to support their learning, including on 120 state of the art tablets provided by Samsung.
“We are extremely pleased to be part of this important programme opening new ways of communication for our youngest citizens and making it possible for children to express the thoughts, needs and feelings they would otherwise not be able to convey. We are happy to see that Samsung’s tablets have become a mainstay in bridging the challenges in communication which children with developmental difficulties face,” said Milan Vujović, Director of Marketing at Samsung Electronics’ regional branch office.
Communication plays one of the most important roles in the life of every human being. Each child has their own thoughts and feelings and it is up to society to make sure that every child gets an opportunity for their voice to be heard.