Raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has a dramatic impact on families. Many parents find themselves in a constant flux of wondering and worrying about how to cope and best help their child.
While there is still room for further enhancement in the services currently available for children and youth with ASD in Qatar, over the last few years there has been a significant change in society’s attitudes towards accepting them into the community fold. From more easily accessible clinical services, support groups, behavioral therapies to school-based programs – there is a growing network of support services now available for families in Qatar.
Sidra Medical and Research Center’s (Sidra) approach to caring for children with ASD is to provide care for the whole family. The concept ties in closely with Sidra’s overall goal to provide patient and family centered care across all facets of health delivery.
At Sidra, the Developmental Pediatrics and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry clinics currently provide multiple services for children and young people with ASD. This includes comprehensive diagnostic assessments and treatment recommendations. The clinics also provide evaluation services for children with comorbid emotional and psychiatric issues.
Dr Fatima Janjua, Division Chief of Developmental Pediatrics, explained that, children referred with suspected ASD participate in a multidisciplinary assessment, on the same day, by a team of doctors, psychologists, therapists and nurses. This approach allows for a more accurate and immediate diagnosis, which in turn leads to earlier intervention.
Commenting on the services, Dr. Ahsan Nazeer, Division Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from Sidra said, “Family is an integral part of the care and significant effort goes into educating them during sessions at our clinic. With the right support to the families – they in turn can help their child to learn, grow and thrive. Each family receives a detailed report of initial evaluation about the child. The report provides a valuable record of the current functioning, diagnosis of the child and possible treatment recommendations. Families can share this report with schools and different community organizations to receive appropriate services for their child.”
Sidra’s clinicians share some tips for parents of children with ASD:
o Focus on the positive – Praise your child for the good behavior – like every other child they will respond well to positive reinforcement.
o Understand Autism – One of the most important factor in the child’s progress is parents’/caregivers’ acceptance and participation in the intervention program. In children with ASD, your understanding of the underlying reasons for your child’s behaviors will help you to be actively involved in managing them on a daily basis. Family involvement increases the amount of intervention time delivered to the child in a natural environment and has a positive impact on developmental outcomes.
o Schedules are important – Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder feel safe and secure when they know what to expect each day. Having a daily schedule will help them to have a sense of structure as they will know what they will be doing each day. – it will also make your life easier.
o Build a support network – Make a list of the people (family members, neighbors, relatives, other families who have children with autism, teachers etc.) who can help you and pick up that phone call. Other parents will be the best resource for understanding what causes challenging behaviors and how to deal with them. They will also provide you with a friendly space and understanding ear and will help you remember that you are not alone.
o Avoid burnout by taking care of yourself – Like in all new circumstances, allow yourself time to get used to your child’s challenging behaviors and try to focus at one thing at the time. Be on the lookout for sign of burnout that usually include; fatigue, irritability, changes in sleep pattern, avoiding friends, feeling of helplessness, crying and feelings of hopelessness. If you feel that you are suffering from burnout, seek help; call you doctor, talk to your family members and ask for help, eat healthy diet, exercise and go out with your friends to some relaxing activities. Ask, ask, ask!
In addition to accepting referrals from Hamad Medical Corporation and Primary Health Care Corporation, the clinics also accept ASD referrals from schools.
“Accepting ASD referrals from schools is unique to Qatar. We are working closely with different schools to provide education, guidance and to help them with children who are in need of evaluation and treatment interventions. Our recommendation and approach for the teachers is to use the SPELL framework which recognizes strengths of the child and emphasizes that interventions should be based on – Structure, Positive Approaches, Empathy, Low Arousal and Links (between child’s life and various components of the program),” continued Dr. Nazeer.
Sidra is currently part of a National Autism Working Group – which is under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Health. The group includes a dedicated consortium of various ministries, the public and private sector, hospitals and most importantly parents and care givers who are part of the Qatar Autism Families Association. The group is working closely to finalize a Qatar National Autism Plan. The plan is based on six pillars – Awareness; Early Recognition and Screening; Diagnosis and Assessment; Interventions; Education and Transition into Adolescence, Adulthood and Elderhood.
Dr Fatima Janjua, a founding member of the National Autism Strategy Workgroup and co-writer of the Qatar National Autism Plan said, “The final document is the result of an extraordinary multidisciplinary and multiagency effort which involved both statutory and voluntary agencies including the Qatar Autism Families Association. As a professional recently arrived in Qatar, it was very gratifying to work with so many experienced and knowledgeable colleagues from different institutions, all fully committed to establish modern, evidence based, comprehensive and family centered Autism Services in Qatar”.
Dr. Muhammed Waqar Azeem, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Sidra, who is Chair of the National Autism Working Group and Co-Chair of the WISH Autism Forum said, “The government in Qatar’s commitment to supporting families of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder is admirable. As a community and as a nation – our focus for caring for individuals with ASD should be to help them become an integral part of society and to feel safe and respected. I am confident that the national autism plan that is being developed in Qatar will have a major impact in improving the lives of individuals with autism and their families and that eventually, it can be a model for other GCC countries.”