x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Pre-school screening lacking in UAE

Experts say disability in children goes undetected in 70 per cent of all cases in the UAE.

Mariam Jamal al Maheri interacts with her mother, Kerry Eden, during a developmental screening test at Zayed University.
Mariam Jamal al Maheri interacts with her mother, Kerry Eden, during a developmental screening test at Zayed University.

DUBAI // Disability in children goes undetected in 70 per cent of all cases in the UAE because of a lack of pre-school screening tests to identify development delays, experts say.

To raise awareness, Zayed University this week held a three-day workshop - "An Aware Mother Equals a Healthy Generation" - for women at the university.

Soulayma Mahini, the head of the social work programme at Dubai Early Childhood Development Centre, yesterday encouraged students at the university to opt for such tests in the first few months of becoming parents. 

While screening for disorders such as hypothyroidism, sickle cell anaemia and thalassaemia is mandatory, she said auditory and developmental-delay screening tests were optional and considered unnecessary by many parents. 

"Only 20 to 30 per cent of children [with developmental delays] are diagnosed before pre-school," said Ms Mahini. She said that the UAE should make such screen mandatory.

"The rest go unnoticed, and only when the child begins school do parents start hearing feedback about their poor attention or slow progress in class," she added.

The centre has started a screening programme for children in six government kindergarten schools in Dubai, and plans to expand it to private schools by the end of the year.

Teachers at the schools will be trained to administer the 10-minute test that helps identify disabilities.  

Last year, the centre worked with three nurseries and discovered that more than 15 per cent of children tested had developmental problems.

"Sometimes, a few therapy sessions in the early stages are enough to correct the problem," said Ms Mahini. "But if it is not treated on time, it can lead to severe disability."

Fatima Ahmed al Qassimi, a senior specialist at the university's Office of Accessibility, said many young adults do not understand the need for such tests.

"Sometimes, when I tell a parent to get their child screened, they take offence," said Ms Qassimi.

Kerry Eden, whose three-year-old daughter has a speech-development problem, said general examinations at the hospital where she gave birth were inadequate to identify the issue. 

"I was the one who detected it, not the hospital," she said.

In March, the Health Authority Abu Dhabi launched an optional newborn screening programme in public and private hospitals to test babies for genetic, endocrine, metabolic, haematologic and respiratory diseases. 

 

aahmed@thenational.ae