The Child Development Centre at Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Rumailah Hospital and the Paediatrics Department at Hamad General Hospital are providing coordinated, multi-disciplinary care for children, adolescents, and families affected by an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
According to Dr Madeeha Kamal, Senior Paediatrics Consultant at HMC, children aged five to 18 years of age who have been diagnosed with an ASD are closely observed and followed up with a specialised medical rehabilitation programme. She said about 200 children with ASD receive treatment at HMC each year, adding that globally one in 68 children has ASD, with prevalence among males being four times higher than females.
Dr Kamal stated that the number of children diagnosed with ASD is currently on the rise, which she attributes partly to increased awareness of the disorder. She added that children with ASD are referred to HMC from schools (upon their parents’ consent), from health centres and from private hospitals.
She said that early warning signs can include behavioural patterns such as violence, solitude, introversion and a lack of integration with other children, adding that teachers often identify behaviours that parents or other caregivers may not pick up on.
She explained that ASD varies from one child to another and is diagnosed according to severity.
Severe cases of ASD are normally diagnosed when a child is very young, whereas children with mild symptoms may go undetected for some time. If parents notice any usual signs or symptoms, such as speech difficulties, poor communication with others, violent behaviour, they should immediately consult a specialist,” said Dr Kamal.
HMC, in collaboration with the Primary Health Care Corporation, is working to promote early diagnosis and detection of ASD by focusing on training health centre physicians to recognise the condition, specifically during a child’s vaccination appointments. Children diagnosed with ASD are referred to the Child Development Centre at Rumailah Hospital.
Dr Suna Fayed, Consultant in Child Rehabilitation and Director of the Autism Programme at the Child Development Centre, describes autism as a ‘life-long behavioural developmental disorder’.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a group of developmental disorders that includes a wide range, ‘a spectrum,’ of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability. Some children may experience mild signs and symptoms, which they can normally tolerate and live independently with, whereas others need life-long support. The first symptoms usually show up in the first three years of a child’s life.
Dr Fayed said that core symptoms of ASD include difficulty in communicating and interacting with others, repetitive behaviours and restricted interests and activities, all of which can contribute to on-going social problems for the individual and their carers.
She stressed the importance of tolerance and sensitivity when caring for, and interacting with, children with autism and their families. She said it is important to create an enabling environment, respecting privacy and abilities and creating an environment that enhances self-confidence. She added that it is important to provide relevant education and guidance that empowers children and their families and integrates them into the community.
Ahmed Hassan Saad, ASD Programme Coordinator at the Child Development Centre, said the programme has attended to more than 1,000 children since it launched in 2012. According to him, the programme has continued to develop, especially in terms of its therapeutic aspects.
Treatment and rehabilitation for ASD start with training and education for parents and caregivers. From there, personalised plans are developed for each child according to individual needs. Children undergo intensive individual and collective multi-specialised treatment.’
For more information on Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit hamad.qa.