x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Not enough courses for autism specialists, say experts

There are a limited number of specialised developmental disorder programs available at UAE universities.

The challenge of recruiting qualified specialists is compounded by the limited number of academic programmes at local universities, experts say.

Dr Bushra Al Mulla, the director of the Community Development Authority's Dubai Early Childhood Development Centre, said there was an urgent need to have academic courses in Applied Behavioural Analysis, speech, occupational and behavioural therapy, and clinical child psychology.

UAE University and Middlesex University are the only institutions in the country offering both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in psychology, but no doctorate.

UAE University and Zayed University offer master's degrees in special education.

Other university programmes related to social work, child sociology and early childhood education are available, but at undergraduate levels with no programmes for clinical child psychology.

There is no specifically tailored course for Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), a proven method of treating autism, so there is no formal certification for ABA specialists in the UAE. Rather, therapists are either educated outside the country or receive training internally from the centres at which they work.

Dr Omniyat Al Hajri, the director of public health and research at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad), acknowledged the major shortages in speech and rehabilitation therapy, but she said it is also important to be sensitive to children's needs when trying to fill the gaps. "We need to make sure therapy is provided in the language of the child - and for our kids, this is difficult," she said. "We are working on a programme to identify these gaps, and improving the available services."

The lack of resources is not specific to the UAE, Dr Al Mulla said. "The government should develop policies to ensure that every single person with autism and developmental delay is protected and can easily access all services without exclusion, as it is their right to be a fully inclusive member in the society," she said.