Qatar was joined by the international community as hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world, lit up in blue in recognition of people living with autism, yesterday.
World Autism Awareness Day was first proposed by H H Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation (QF) in the UN and was commemorated in 2008. In recognition of the observance, events and educational activities take place all month to increase understanding and acceptance and foster support for individuals living with Autism.
Autism awareness is a huge accomplishment for the country as it is in the forefront for leading efforts in an international way. There have been many positive changes such as an increase in awareness, timely screening and diagnosis have improved patient outcomes in Qatar, said Professor Muhammad Waqar Azeem, who is the Chair of Psychiatry at Sidra Medicine.
“The launch and implementation of the National Autism Plan (2017-2021), which aims to improve lives of individuals with autism and their families is a major achievement,” said Prof Azeem, who was also the Chair of the Qatar National Autism Plan Working Group.
“Qatar is the only country in the region and one of the few in the world, with a National Autism Plan. The Ministry of Public Health is now leading the implementation of the plan,” he told The Peninsula.
The National Autism Plan lists numerous goals to be implemented by 2021. The goals focus on programmes to increase public awareness, facilitate early diagnosis and improve the quality of interventions and services, as well as continuity of care and meaningful development in education and social participation.
“During the World Innovation Summit for Health in 2016, in Doha, as Co-Chair of the Autism Forum, it was extremely encouraging for me to see 11 experts from 5 continents working together for a year to produce a report which had recommendations to provide evidence-based interventions worldwide.
This research was presented at the WISH Autism Forum and then later on presented at other international conferences. It is inspiring that institutions from Qatar are either leading or presenting discussions and recommendations on this important topic,” said Professor Azeem.
“We have come a significant journey in regard to autism but we still have some way to go,” he said.
Sidra Medicine which is a QF member, acknowledged the role QF plays in enhancing the lives of individuals with Autism through education, research, clinical services and more.
The support and leadership of H E Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani, Vice-Chairperson and CEO of QF, and Buthaina Al Nuaimi, President of Pre-University Education, QF, have been instrumental in bringing positive results for children with Autism at QF institutions.
Renad Academy is a state of the art school established by QF that helps Qatari children who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate Autism. It provides education and specialised services to students, and training and support to parents. “The school provides exceptional services to children with Autism,” said Professor Azeem.
Children referred with suspected Autism and co-morbid conditions to Sidra Medicine participate in a comprehensive assessment by a team of doctors, psychologists, therapists and nurses. This approach allows for a more accurate and immediate diagnosis and evidence based interventions.
Since 2016, Sidra Medicine has also been accepting Autism referrals from schools. Sidra Medicine is currently conducting cutting edge research, which can lead to ways that can potentially look into causes of autism, which will help with earlier and accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment interventions.