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Kuwait keeping abreast of the latest on ‘autism’ World Autism Awareness Day being marked

 KUWAIT CITY, April 1, (KUNA): Kuwait is marking World Autism Awareness Day on Wednesday, April 2, and has more than many to boast of in terms of care provided to the autistic and their families and loved ones. Kuwait Center for Autism was founded in 1994 as a Waqf project by Kuwait Public Awqaf Foundation, with both the Ministry of Education and individual philanthropists pitching in later on to furbish the center and improve its services.

The center was the first specialized institution in this field in the Arab world. The center’s activities and services span beyond Kuwait to the Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab countries. It is the meeting place and organizer of gatherings of specialists, researchers and training courses, and boasts of the first ISO awards for institutions in this field in the Middle East. Through efforts of Dr Samira Abdulatief Al-Saad, Director of Kuwait Center for Autism, the Gulf Autism Association was later established as well as the Arab Autism Network.

The center organized a diploma program on autism in cooperation with the University of London in 2000 and 2003. It also hosted the first Middle East international conference on autism and social interaction imparities in 2000, among other achievements. The activities and quality of service earned the center many awards and great recognition. It obtained an ISO certificate, won a Philip Morris award in 2003, was granted a Jean Amos Comenius (UNESCO) award in 2009, and also won an EU prize in 2012. As for start of services to this group in Kuwait, it was with one classroom for autistic children at the home of a parent of such child in 1985. Another lady, Muneera Al-Mutawwa, later worked on opening a classroom for autistic children at the Kuwait Society for the Disabled. Asrar Al-Qabandi for her part established a child care center for children with special needs, which later grew into Khalifah School after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.

Occupation
And even during the Iraqi occupation of 1990, Dr Al- Saad supervised a classroom for five autistic Kuwaiti children in her home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The class was later on brought under the care and support of Al-Faisalya Women’s Welfare society, the kingdom’s most active women group. Princess Fahda bint Saud Al- Saud, society chairwoman, then took a step further and the classroom became Jeddah Autism Center.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior. The diagnostic criteria requires that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old.” Parents usually notice signs in the first two years of their child’s life. The signs usually develop gradually, but some autistic children first develop more normally and then regress. Early behavioral, cognitive, or speech interventions can help autistic children gain self-care, social, and communication skills.

Research suggests genetic as well as environmental factors which contribute to autism. But though there are means to accurately diagnose a child, there is no real “cure” to date, only means to help some of the patients perform better within their immediate society. Response to treatment and rehabilitation depends largely on the level of complication of a child’s condition and timely access to specialized care. One of every 150 children is diagnosed with autism, and the number is higher at one in every 94 male children. The disorder is the fastest growing disability worldwide, with more patients than those with cancer, AIDS, or other diseases.

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