600 kids await treatment in Dubai on autism day

Asma Ali Zain - Deputy Chief Reporter
Filed on April 3, 2015
600 kids await treatment in Dubai on autism day

At least 250 children are on the waiting list at the Dubai Autism Centre (DAC) alone. The centre, established in 2001, accommodates people until 18 years of age.

Dubai — An estimated 600 children are waiting to secure a place in at least seven autism centres in Dubai and start some form of treatment.

600 kids await treatment in Dubai on autism day (/assets/oldimages/accept_0401.jpg)Though no official data is available in the UAE on the total number of children or adults suffering from any form of autism spectrum disorders, doctors and officials said that the numbers could be far more than those diagnosed. Many cases are unreported, mainly due to the stigma attached to the disorder.

Some children are said to have been waiting for years.

At least 250 children are on the waiting list at the Dubai Autism Centre (DAC) alone. The centre, established in 2001, accommodates people until 18 years of age.

“There are currently 54 children enrolled in the DAC and at least 250 are on the waiting list,” said Mohammed Al Emadi, director-general of the centre.

“But with the money donated by Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, recently, our main purpose is to extend the centre and add more facilities so that we can cut waiting times,” he said. “The expanded centre with more capacity and staff will be completed by the end of the year,” he added.

Shaikh Hamdan donated $6 million to the centre on March 29 after winning the prize at the Dubai World Cup.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), global occurrence of the disorder suggests 62/10,000 which means that one in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder. The disorder is prevalent in one in 42 boys and in the UAE it is one in 50 children.

“Autism prevalence figures are growing over the years,” according to Dr Shaju George, specialist psychiatrist, International Modern Hospital.

Campaigns begin today

The DAC will launch it’s month-long campaign today titled ‘Accept me as I am. I am a child with Autism’ targeted towards the society.

The ATF will also launch a worldwide campaign on the disorder today

Inaam Nader, managing director of the Autism Trust Foundation,a non-profit centre established three years ago, said that at least 67 children were waiting for a place in the foundation. “As per my estimates, up to 600 children are on waiting lists and this for nearly seven centres…while some centres give out details of their waiting lists, others do not, so this is an estimate,” she said.

“In some cases, kids are hidden at homes and no records are kept…it is like a family secret,” said Inaam.

The ATF, which operates in the UAE, the UK, Canada, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Ghana and Palestine, currently houses 36 people of all ages in Dubai while 67 have been waiting to enrol for over a year.

“We are also hoping to expand…even if we have a place for one child, we will accommodate,” she said.

What is autism?

Autism is one of the developmental disorders under the autism spectrum and stays with the affected throughout his life. It is characterised by lack of communication and social interaction and a tendency towards being isolated from others

Identification of an autism spectrum disorder is difficult before the age of 12 months but diagnosis is ordinarily possible by the age of two years

Autism is considered the most widely known developmental disorder as it affects one in every 68 births 

Today, the UAE joins the international community in marking World Autism Awareness Day which this year is being observed under the theme ‘Employment: The Autism Advantage’.

The UN estimates that more than 80 per cent of adults with autism are unemployed. “Employment for autism patients largely depends on which level of the spectrum they are on,” said Al Emadi.

The severity of the disorder also affects the children who need to attend regular schools. “Enrolment in mainstream school also depends on the situation of the kid,” said Inaam.

Most centres, however, offer one-to-one treatment to children with therapists attending to behaviour and speech therapies among others.

A mother’s account

As is the case with most parents, S.K. didn’t know her boy was autistic until he was three years when the tell-tale signs gave away.

“He didn’t like to mingle with children, did not speak much and shied away from relatives and crowds…this was when my pediatrician told me he was autistic,” said S.K. “This was the first time I heard about autism,” said the mother.

“It’s been a year now since I started his treatment at ATF…He has improved so much and is socialising now.”

S.K. has also learnt that her son had a super sharp memory. “If someone dials a number and he sees, he can recall from memory and dial the same number. The same way, he has his way of solving jigsaw puzzles,” she said.

The child is receiving intensive treatment and is ready to enrol in a mainstream nursery.

“I only wish the treatments available in the country were cheaper so that we had more choices,” said S.K.

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