Home > Science > Autism Speaks Goes to Bangladesh

Autism Speaks Goes to Bangladesh

Posted by Andy Shih, Ph.D., vice president of scientific affairs for Autism Speaks

Saima Hossain almost always has a smile on her face. It’s there when she juggles the demands of her four adorable children. It was there when she confessed to being nervous before her speech at the United Nations. She even smiled when she asked me, half seriously, “What have you gotten me into?”

It seems the only time Saima doesn’t smile is when she is talking about autism. A licensed school psychologist, Saima knows that the daily struggle of those touched by autism is no laughing matter. When she talks about autism, she is thoughtful and knowledgeable, and her passion to make a difference is palpable. “I see this as my life’s work,” she told me.

 Saima Hossain addresses UN diplomats and guests on World Autism Awareness Day 2011

I first met Saima, the daughter of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, two years ago at a World Autism Awareness Day event that Autism Speaks hosted here in New York. I was impressed with her poise and passion even then. But I didn’t get a chance to speak with her at length until last September when Autism Speaks hosted its annual “World Focus on Autism” event to raise awareness among world leaders converging for the UN General Assembly.

We talked about the challenges that individuals and families affected by autism face in Bangladesh, a poor country of over 162 million people in Southeast Asia. Saima conveyed her deep desire to make a difference in the lives of Bangladeshi children as well as all children who struggle with autism. At the end of our long conversation, we agreed to explore bringing our Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative to Southeast Asia.

I can tell you that our collaboration with Saima has already reaped great rewards for Autism Speaks and the families we serve. For example, with Saima’s help, Autism Speaks and Bangladesh’s Permanent Mission recently co-hosted a UN celebration of World Autism Awareness Day. The many world diplomats attending included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. He and other influential guests expressed their solidarity with our cause and listened to a panel of experts and advocates (including Saima) who eloquently explained how international collaboration will speed the answers we need to help all who struggle with autism—including families here in North America.

Next week, I will travel to Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Dana Marnane, Autism Speaks’ vice president of awareness and events, and Michael Rosanoff, associate director of public health research. There we will participate in the launch of GAPH-Bangladesh and co-host a conference — “Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities in Bangladesh and South Asia” — together with the Bangladesh government, the Centre for Neurodevelopment & Autism in Children (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University), the World Health Organization (WHO), and WHO’s South East Asian Regional Office (SEARO).

Our goal is to boost regional awareness and advocacy for individuals and families touched by autism. We will be joined in this effort by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed and her ministers as well as regional dignitaries including Indian National Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the First Lady of Sri Lanka Madam Shiranthi Rajapaksa, and the Second Lady of the Maldives Madam Ilham Hussain — all of whom have expressed their desire to learn more about autism and explore how they can collaborate with each other and Autism Speaks.

Michael and I have been in daily contact with Saima in the past two weeks, and her team in Dhaka has been amazing. We’re awed to see this tremendous endeavor take shape, gain momentum, and become one of the region’s most anticipated events. We know this is the beginning of much hard work, even as it is giving us and the autism community of Bangladesh and South Asia a sense of pride and hope for tomorrow.

For news coverage of the ‘Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities in Bangladesh and South Asia’ Conference, visit here.


  1. July 22, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    You should consider showing the movie Wretches and Jabberers where two autistic men already traveled also to Sri Lanka from the U.S. to talk about autism. http://www.wretchesandjabberers.org/

  2. July 23, 2011 at 7:17 am

    This is a good news for bangladesh

  3. July 24, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    I am interested in knowing if there are ways to get involved at an international level with helping to promote education about ASD issues. A couple of years ago I was involved in a humanitarian program in a poor rural part of Mexico, and consulted with parents and teachers there about how to work with their autistic children. They had almost no exposure to helpful strategies. I would love to find more opportunities for this kind of work.

  4. thescienceteam
    July 25, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Hi Barbara Lester! Thanks for inquiring. I’ll see if I can find someone to provide such information. Best wishes, JSS

  5. Rajesham Kokkula
    July 26, 2011 at 1:28 am

    This is wonderful event in Asia and very much required to promote autism awareness and help Autistic persons and families in the region.

    Great about this event is that the top leaders of nations involvement like Smt Sonia Gandhi from India, Madam Shiranthi Rajapaksa from Sri Lanka, Madam Ilham Hussain from Maldives.

    Thanks to Saima Hossain and Autism Speaks..

  6. Sayeed Nasim
    July 26, 2011 at 2:06 am

    This is a very good effort by Autism Speaks. Please don’t keep your activities limited only to a seminar or a three days workshop. I am father of two autistic children Ananta and Duranta. On behalf of parents and teachers of autistic children I really appreciate the extension hands for mutual co operation by Autism Speaks for less previledged countries like Bangladesh. Strongly believe we, the parents and the teachers for the autistic children, will be benifited from such effort. Thanks to Saima Hossain. Looking forward to see more programs taken to help the development of autistic children.

  7. shajjad hossain
    July 29, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    we are delighted to see the grant success of the conference on autism held in Dhaka, Bangladesh under the leadership of saima hossain . She has done a great job coming bravely to address the needs of current time in Bangladesh. We are the victim of that nature. No one will understand this problem until they will see it in their family. Look forward to seeing further work on this particular issue. Good luck.

  8. July 31, 2011 at 3:45 am

    We do little CAMPAIGN in the rural Bangladesh through some of our Rural ICT and Community Centre. Hope it strengthen the force to aware about it as well as establish some specialize centre around the country. Good hope!

  9. Md. Ashraful Alam
    August 23, 2011 at 1:41 am

    Its a good news for the people of Bangladesh.I hope it will be helpful for those who are autistic.

    • September 15, 2011 at 8:07 am

      I do agree with you. Its really a great news. Bangladesh has hosted the Autism Summit tremendously. Thanks to Sayma Hossain and Our PM SK. Haisna for the great work.

  10. Musharrat Jabin
    September 25, 2011 at 2:41 am

    No doubt about it. It was a great & wonderful event for Bangladesh people. It was a enormous initiative for our autistic children. My heartfelt thanks to Sayma Hossain and our honourable prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

  11. October 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    It was a very good initiative. – Ashraful Alam

  12. February 26, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    I was amazed to see your interview.Actually I was on youtube looking up some stuff and saw your program about autism and its’ interviews. I didn’t know who you were at first but then sometime later I found out you are prime minister Sheikh Hasinas’ daughter. I liked your speach and couldn’t believe that someone can speak up in this country the way you did. I live in Pennsylvania and am working in a high school as a Special Ed teacher assistant. If you need any help in future please let me know and send me a email. I will be more than happy to help my country. Thanks for standing up like this. Looking forward to see more programs taken to help the development of autistic children in our country. I know its not a easy job to do but I believe you are probably the right person to do it.Good luck

  1. July 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm

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