Autism in the Middle East

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Doha, Qatar – Children at the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs in Qatar have autism. Abdullah Itani, a trainer at the centre shares the views of the centre in that the child comes first and not the disability.

The Shafallah Center, opened in 1999, many past students now work in banks, post offices and telecom companies.

Sara Ahmed Baker, head of community service unit at Dubai Autism Centre said that the gap between the care needed for mental health issues and what is available is wider in poorer countries than in their affluent counterparts.

“Autism spectrum disorders impose a huge emotional and economic burden on families. Caring for children with these disorders is demanding, especially where access to services and support is inadequate,”

Services are lacking in many affluent Middle Eastern countries as well.

The Dubai Autism Center has helped autistic children in the United Arab Emirates since its establishment in 2001.

“There were children diagnosed incorrectly as mentally retarded, not being diagnosed, characterised as naughty at school because of their behaviour, or kept from society because of a positive diagnosis.”

The centre has diagnosed 110 individuals with autism this year.

The centre has reduced its waiting time for diagnosis to two months,in the United Kingdom the waiuting time for diagnosis is six months to a year, and a full year in Canada.

Sara Ahmed Baker adds:

“We’ve had parents from the UK, for example, tell us that we’re better than the services in the UK,” “But for us it’s not enough to be better than the UK or some other country, because it’s about serving everyone’s needs.”

During World Autism Month, there are many planned activities to raise awareness across the Middle East.

Sara Ahmed Baker tells:

“We’re on the right path – now, we just need to move to a faster track.”

The original article by Jassim Mater on the Aljazeera website can be read here