RAK Hospital marks April as Autism Awareness Month

  • Free Screenings for Autism Spectrum Disorder and Counseling for parents throughout the month.
  • Campaign kicked off with fun activities and parent workshops

To promote the rights and well-being of individuals with disabilities, including children with learning differences and developmental issues, RAK Hospital’s Counseling and Psychology Unit is celebrating April as the Autism Awareness Month. The celebrations began on April 1, 2017 wherein children with their parents participated in fun and engaging activities, exciting games, colourful hand painting and releasing of balloons. Moreover, the hospital conducted a symposium, for parents where they were educated on different parenting styles, techniques and guided on how to handle their special needs child.

As part of the campaign, hospital will be providing free screenings that include clinical observation and psychological assessment and interview with the parents during the month of April. Parents who may be suspecting autism spectrum and other neuro-developmental disorders in their children can benefit through this initiative. Parents of children with an established condition can seek expert guidance on parenting styles and techniques.

Regular workshops, symposium and counseling sessions throughout the month will help parents get hands on tools to deal with the condition in an effective manner.

“Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests its features during the first 30 months of life. It is characterized by impairment in social interaction, communication, restricted and repetitive behavior. The role of autism in all regions of the world is high and lack of understanding has tremendous impact on the individuals, their families, and communities”, said Mardy E. Dizon, Psychologist at RAK Hospital.

“Recent statistics show that 1 in 88 children in UAE are now being diagnosed with autism. While diagnosis is on the rise, a child typically is not diagnosed by a professional until he or she is over two years old. However, there are signs that could indicate your child is on the spectrum as early as six months of age. Through our initiative we aim to raise public awareness of the fact that early recognition, education and intervention can result in improved outcome. Moreover, we want to support the parents of children with a confirmed diagnosis in managing the behavioral difficulties by helping them with the right tools and techniques to cope with the situation in an efficient way”, said Dr. Raza Siqqidui., Executive Director of RAK Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah.

“The approach that parents take with their children who have developmental disabilities is directly tied to how cooperative and independent they become. Thus positive parenting is recommended and can be particularly effective in helping young children with developmental disabilities become more independent and cooperative. When positive parenting is implied children exhibit higher levels of independence, language skills, emotional expression and social interaction with adults and peers plus improved temperament and greater development”, added Mr Mardy.

In fact, the symptoms and severity of the child’s disability are more likely to decrease over time with positive parenting techniques. These include making frequent eye contact, using positive affirmation rather than criticism, demonstrating understanding and responding immediately.

Early Red Flags for Autism that appear by 12 months include:

  • Not babbling, not pointing, not showing objects to caregivers and lack of other gestures
  • Lack of shared enjoyment – shared enjoyment refers to a child’s desire to interact with others, just for the sake of connecting. If a child does not seek out this type of interaction, or rarely smiles or laughs when playing with a caregiver, this is a red flag for autism.
  • Repetitive actions or movements
  • Poor eye contact – not looking at caregivers when communicating or playing with them.
  • Paying more attention to objects than people – all children are fascinated with toys and interesting objects. But young children with autism will spend much more of their time with objects than people.
  • Limited play with toys
  • Not copying actions or sounds – not imitating actions like clapping hands, banging on a drum, or people’s speech sounds.
  • Not responding to his or her name when called

For toddlers between 18 – 24 months, the following is also a red flag for autism:

  • Loss of words, skills, or social connection – this type of regression doesn’t happen with all children with autism. But approximately 20% to 50% of parents of children with autism report that their child lost some of his or her skills during the second year, usually around 18 months of age