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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 15 August 2018

New treatment centre announced on World Autism Day

Healthcare facility will diagnose disorder, help?to rehabilitate young and older Emirati sufferers, and provide vocational guidance.

DUBAI // A centre that will diagnose autism and rehabilitate hundreds of Emirati children and adults who have the disorder is due to open next year, authorities announced yesterday on World Autism Day.

The Emirates International Autism Centre aims to provide early intervention, speech and behavioural therapy, and vocational training at subsidised rates for Emirati sufferers in Dubai, including 272 who are on the waiting lists of autism centres.

“Autism is stealing our children away from us. It is a big issue,” said Fahed bin Al Shaikh, the deputy chairman of the Autism Trust Foundation.

“There are some UAE nationals who have been on the waiting list for 15 years. That is unacceptable. There are many parents who don’t know what autism is. They think it is a mental sickness. We have to reach out to them.”

The Autism Trust Foundation will run the centre in collaboration with Dubai’s Community Development Authority (CDA).

Another centre will open towards the end of next year to serve the Northern Emirates, Mr Al Shaikh said, adding the Dubai centre might later open its doors to expatriates, but the initial priority will be citizens.

There are no accurate statistics on the total number of people with autism in the emirate, but experts estimate it would be more than 300 nationals.

“It is a child’s right to receive early intervention and this centre will give them care in their natural environment,” said Dr Bushra Al Mulla, the director of Dubai Early Childhood Development Centre.

“We will integrate some in schools and the severe cases we will help at the centre.”

The Autism Trust Foundation, a non-profit group registered in the UK, and the CDA have conducted intensive studies on care in Dubai. Two workshops were held in February for 175 families of children with autism.

“That is when we realised that these families suffer from double pain,” said Shaikha Al Mutawa, the chief executive of the Autism Trust.

“The parents have no clue how to deal with the children and there is a shortage of centres they can go to for professional guidance.

“These are smart children with talent but they need the right kind of care. This new centre will cover the gap.”

Caring for people with autism can be expensive because of the need for clinical psychologists, and behavioural, occupational and speech therapists. Annual costs can range between Dh30,000 and Dh360,000 a person.

One of every 110 children worldwide is affected by autism, a neurobiological disorder that appears within the first three years of a child’s life. Autism affects social and communication skills, and lasts throughout a person’s life.

The CDA described the initiative as necessary government support to the non-profit sector.

“This represents our commitment to improve the lifestyle of Emiratis affected by autism, through the establishment of a well-equipped centre offering services at reasonable fees,” said Dr Omar Al Muthanna, the chief executive for the CDA’s social regulatory and licensing sector.

The announcement was one of several events marking World Autism Day.

The Burj Al Arab was bathed in blue light yesterday, along with some of the world’s best-known landmarks, as part of the global “Light It Up Blue” initiative.

Other famous structures that lit up in honour of the event included New York’s Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House.

Children from schools including the Gems Wellington Primary School dressed in blue and walked around the school grounds to bring awareness of the need for acceptance of sufferers.

“It’s very important for governments to get involved because the numbers are increasing,” said Carolina Tovar, the co-founder of Child Early Intervention Medical Centre, who took part in the Gems Wellington school walk with her young son, who has autism.

“We need to focus on the quality of care, diagnosis and help families handle this complicated disorder.”

The Dubai Autism Centre also launched a month-long campaign with the slogan “accept, embrace and empower”, to help integrate children into the community.

A walkathon will take place on April 21 in Zabeel Park as part of a global autism initiative, with activities organised by health agencies.

rtalwar@thenational.ae

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