Lahore   -  Hasaan pushes his toy train under the table and hurries to receive it from the other side. Although two helpers, three trained teachers and his parents have been taking extra care, the segregation from his peers left him in agony.

“He tried to play with his cousins but they didn’t understand why he shook his arm and clicked his tongue repeatedly. Frightened, they started to play separately,” explained the mother of 12-year-old boy.

The society is grounded in unspoken shared norms. You learn early on to do exactly what you see others doing. If you mimic well enough you will be well liked. People who deter from our communally constructed ideal of normality are pushed to the peripheries. Labelled as weirdoes or misfits. What else can be expected in a society that is built upon imitation? And the system works well enough up until someone is not given the opportunity to mingle with their peers. Segregated simply because they are different. This is precisely the fate of those diagnosed with the autism spectrum disorder. Communication, behavioral, social and learning impediments are amplified as these children are segregated from normal children. They are deprived of the chance to learn and therefore to integrate socially.

In Pakistan an estimated 350,000 children are autistic. Although a large amount of autistic children are unable to join mainstream schooling, children with mild traces are kept away from realising their potential through denying integrative schooling systems.

Studies show that the effect of integrative schooling is twofold. Upon being introduced in to a normal classroom environment, autistic children would pick up on integral social and learning patterns from classmates. Such a system is also vital to generating a well-formed and compassionate society. Difference should not ignite intolerance or awkwardness in people but curiosity to learn.

Clinical psychologist Saba Mubarak said they are in need of being included in a room of normal peers.

Being included allows them to communicate, learn behaviours such as sharing and understand socially acceptable language patterns.

We never think of the differently-abled while taking major steps like establishing schools, parks, libraries.

In the West, special lines in parking lots of malls, hospitals and schools are allocated.

Yet here, they are unheard of.

The message this gives is that they are not welcome in these establishments.

And such is the reality. None of the leading Pakistani schools have any space for students that deter from the norm.

Perhaps this is where the state must step in. Arrange disabled access on public transport. Allot quotas for children with learning needs to have a space at mainstream educational institutions or even mandatory joint social activities/sports with special needs schools. To bring autistic and other differently abled people into the public sphere is to send out the message that difference is not something to be feared or shunned but to be embraced and celebrated.