Ayaadi brings together youth and parents for “Live with Autism” session

Second CSR Talk panel focuses on the challenge of Autism confronting UAE community

Continuing its CSR Talk series aimed at raising awareness on key community issues, Etisalat’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative Ayaadi today organized a panel discussion titled “Live with Autism.” The free session held at Dubai Women’s College was primarily aimed at leveraging awareness of autism among youth and parents and facilitating better communication with autistic children.

“Live with Autism” took place in the backdrop of alarming rates of autism cases in the UAE, that have now reached 1.1 per cent of neonates. According to a recent study, nearly 1 in every 88 neonates in the UAE carried autistic traits. The Ayaadi session brought together a number of experts and thought leaders in the area of psychology and autism care. These included Dr Abdul Rahman Al Shameeri, Editor-in-Chief and Director General of Al-Watan newspaper; Dr Eman Gaad from British University in Dubai; Dr Mohammad Fteiha, Speech-Communication Unit Head at Community Development Authority (CDA); Ms Sara Baker, Community Service Unit Head at Dubai Autism Center (DAC); Dr Hussein Al Masseih, a social expert at the CDA.

Highlighting the significant numbers of autism cases published by the Abu Dhabi Autism Center, Amal Alkoos, Ayaadi’s Director, said: “There are currently more than 500 known cases of children with autism in Abu Dhabi alone with a similar number in Dubai. However, the seriousness of the autism challenge in the UAE does not lie in these figures alone, but in the fact that diagnosing autism cases in the UAE is not easy given the limited infrastructure for autism support. Thus, increasing awareness within the UAE community and guiding parents in identifying potential symptoms of the disease is critical. Ayaadi is fully committed to raising awareness on this issue through its CSR platforms.”

The panelists at “Live with Autism” emphasized the need to unify efforts to overcome the challenge of autism in the UAE and provide proper social nurturing to children affected by the condition. The panelists agreed that awareness was the first step towards creating a sensitive community and building infrastructure for autism care.

The session began with Dr Al Shameeri discussing his paper “Media message in raising awareness of autism” that focused on the role of media in developing a compassionate relationship between the community and those with autism.
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Dr. Eman Gaad used the session to throw light on a recent paper titled “Inclusion for learners with autism in regular classrooms: rights and challenges.” Shedding light on her findings, she said: “It has been long argued that the inclusion of learners with autism is harder than those with other special needs. This has been traditionally attributed to the complex needs of learners with autism. However, recent research has proven that with the right environment and social nurturing, learners on the autism spectrum can fully function in an inclusive setting and even help other more developed learners. The challenge is for us to create that sheltered environment in the UAE, so as to enable such children to develop fully.”

Dr Fteiha’s paper addressed the components of successful and effective learning programs for children with autism. He said that the most important components of autism care are early intervention and provision of rehabilitative services in an environment that enables engagement with autistic children.

“Adopting a successful autism program depends on various factors, including selection of learning techniques appropriate for children with autism, engaging parents, adopting special communication approaches as well as regular counseling within specialized learning centers,” Dr Fteiha said.

Ms Baker focused on her paper titled “Autism in UAE,” introducing autism to the audience and explaining its traits and symptoms. She briefly reviewed the latest studies in autism, comparing it with other psychological conditions. Ms Baker also highlighted the importance of engaging local families that have little guidance on autistic childcare after diagnosis.

Dr Al Masseih in his address emphasized on the need to train medical practitioners on autism so as to be able to provide constructive guidance to patients at early stages. “It is important that both the medical community and society at large realize that autism is a genetic condition that affects the regular development of those affected. Educating and raising awareness around the condition can not only help create a safer and happier environment for autistic individuals but also help integrate them into the mainstream society,” Dr Al Masseih noted.