Officials at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) Child Development Centre located in Rumailah Hospital, said that early intervention is key to improved outcomes for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Dr Noof Mohammed Al Siddiqi, a key contributor to the Ministry of Public Health National Autism Plan, agrees with this sentiment. Dr Al Siddiqi said that early intervention and access to appropriate services and support can lead to significantly improved outcomes for children with autism.
Each child with autism is a unique individual, with unique needs and abilities. Early intervention programmes that are designed to improve the core behavioural symptoms of autism can provide a child with the tools to build on his or her strengths, improve behaviours, and remediate areas of weakness. But it is important for parents to be observant and to know the signs of autism.’
She added that teachers and other caregivers play an important role in identifying behaviours that parents may not pick up on.
According to World Health Organisation, one in every 68 children worldwide has autism. The lifelong condition is most often diagnosed between the age two to three, but there are reported cases of diagnosis in children as young as 18 months and in adults. While some individuals who have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support.
According to Hossam Mehana, Senior Behavioural Psychologist and Autism Programme Coordinator at the Child Development Centre, children do not outgrow autism, but the condition is treatable. Studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes. It is important for parents, especially new parents, to educate themselves and to be aware of the signs. These can include child being unresponsive, lack of or delay in spoken language, repetitive use of language and motor mannerisms such as hand-flapping, persistent fixation on parts of objects, lack of eye contact, lack of interest in peer relationships, lack of make-believe play, and rarely smiling when approached by caregivers.
While there is no known cause of autism, a number of circumstances, including environmental, biologic, and genetic factors, seem to contribute to making a child more likely to have the disorder. The condition is also more common among males, with a ratio of about one female for every four males diagnosed. Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism, including gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias, underscoring the need to provide families with ongoing and multi-disciplinary support.
Autism in Qatar
The HMC Child Development Centre, established at Rumailah Hospital in 2012 as a comprehensive rehabilitation unit for children (birth to 14 years old) with mild to moderate disabilities, provides a coordinated, multi-disciplinary care programme for children, adolescents, and families affected by autism.
According to Dr Nazim Abdel Aati, Paediatric Consultant at Child Development Centre and Therapy Services, and HMC Autism Programme Director, 3,580 children with autism received treatment at HMC in 2017. He said that the number of children diagnosed is on the rise and the Centre receives between 30 to 40 new referrals every month from primary health centres, either for diagnosis confirmation or because of parents seeking second opinion.
The rise in the rate of autism diagnosis stems from a growing awareness of autism and changes to the condition’s diagnostic criteria. As part of our services, we strive to create an enabling environment, respecting abilities and limitations and enhancing confidence. We operate a distinct autism programme because we recognise that children with autism have unique needs. We focus on providing education and guidance that empowers both the child and their family and integrates them into the community. Treatment and rehabilitation plans are developed for each child according to his or her individual needs.’
In recognition of the eleventh annual World Autism Awareness Day held every 2 April, HMC has organised a full month of events, including public awareness and education stands at a number of its hospitals, a family fun day at Ainza Park, a symposium for clinical teams, and awareness sessions at local businesses.
For more information and updates about the various events organised by HMC to mark the World Autism Month, visit their website at hamad.qa.