Wednesday 03/04/2024 07:17:00 AM

ZHO centres provide internationally accredited care, rehabilitation programmes for 462 individuals with ASD

 World Autism Awareness Day is celebrated, providing opportunities to raise awareness about this condition, commonly referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and to educate people about dealing with autism and its concepts, aiming for their integration to become active members of society.

Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination (ZHO) offers care and rehabilitation programmes with internationally accredited standards for 462 registered students with autism in its care and rehabilitation centres in the Abu Dhabi Emirate. Among them are 184 students at the Abu Dhabi Autism Centre in Abu Dhabi, 120 at the Al Ain Autism Centre in the Al Ain region, 71 in agricultural rehabilitation, 37 at the Zayed City Care and Rehabilitation Centre, 17 at the Abu Dhabi Care and Rehabilitation Centre, 15 at Ghayathi Care and Rehabilitation Centre, three at Sila Care and Rehabilitation Centre, four at the Al Qua Care and Rehabilitation Centre, five at the Al Mirfa Care and Rehabilitation Centre, four at the Al Wagan Care and Rehabilitation Centre, and two at the Al Ain Care and Rehabilitation Centre.

On World Autism Awareness Day, the organisation called for concerted efforts and enhanced collaboration among all state institutions, especially research institutions, universities, and specialised scientific centres, to identify the reasons behind the accelerating spread of ASD, ways to prevent and mitigate its spread, and efforts to reduce its negative effects on affected children. This integrates the efforts of all with the services provided by care and rehabilitation centres for people of determination, including therapeutic, educational, and rehabilitative services for these groups.

International Conference on Autism 'Challenges and Solutions'

The International Autism Conference "Challenges and Solutions," under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Khalid bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of ZHO, is organised by the institution in collaboration and coordination with Lotus Holistic Group.

The conference will be held in Abu Dhabi from 27th to 30th April, 2024, building upon the success of previous editions and continuing the achievements in care and rehabilitation for various categories of people of determination, especially individuals with autism.

Specialised Scientific Journal

A specialised scientific journal sponsored and supported by ZHO will be announced on the opening day of the conference. The journal will be dedicated to autism research and provide the best treatment methods and practices for individuals with ASD, alleviating their suffering and empowering them and their families for integration into society.

This initiative aims to raise their societal awareness. It highlights the importance of scientific responsibility, fulfilling the urgent need for a scientific platform to address current challenges and disseminate research findings to practitioners in various specialised centres. Additionally, the journal acknowledges the UAE's directives to maintain its leading position in humanitarian and social work without discrimination.

Abdullah Abdul Aleem Al Hameedan, Secretary-General of ZHO, emphasised that the UAE is committed to providing a dignified life for all segments of society, especially people of determination, including those with ASD. The country has established specialised centres for their care, rehabilitation, empowerment, and integration into society. Additionally, they are prioritised for prompt medical treatment in all state hospitals as recognition of their constructive contributions and their families' efforts to support them towards productivity. The UAE also provides them with parks that comply with global safety standards.

He further added that institutions, universities, and families must recognise the responsibility of serving and caring for people of determination, especially those with autism. This involves coordinating efforts, collaboration, and cooperation to increase awareness about autism spectrum disorders and their symptoms, enhance the role of individuals with autism, and work towards their integration and empowerment in society, as well as supporting their families.

Al Hameedan stressed the importance of linking academic research with society's practical and realistic needs, particularly those of people of determination. This should be done in the context of the significant interest of all state institutions in enhancing their services, integrating them into society, and empowering them based on advanced scientific principles.

Abu Dhabi Autism Centre

The Abu Dhabi Autism Centre, located in the Za'afarana area of Abu Dhabi and affiliated with ZHO, provides a range of services for students with ASD. In the academic year 2023-2024, there are 184 registered students, including 56 in early intervention programmes and 128 with severe autism and additional disabilities.

The centre's services include education and rehabilitation, early intervention, educational activities, and community activities such as entertainment, scientific programmes, national and religious events, and humanitarian initiatives, both within and outside the country. These services also encompass sports, arts, music, assistive technology, and therapeutic interventions including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and additional rehabilitation services.

Aisha Saif Al Mansoori, Director of the Abu Dhabi Autism Centre, highlighted ASD as a complex condition. She noted a significant increase in the number of individuals affected by autism in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. Autism affects 15 children per 10,000 births worldwide, typically diagnosed by the age of two and a half. Notably, it affects four boys for every girl, and the challenge is compounded when autism coexists with intellectual disabilities, as 75 percent of individuals with autism reportedly experience concurrent intellectual disabilities.

Children with autism often exhibit unusual behaviour, such as social isolation, lack of eye contact, repetitive movements, inability to sense pain, resistance to change, and aversion to hugs. For those with severe autism, aggression and unexplained bouts of anger may occur.

Abu Dhabi Autism Centre is equipped with various facilities, including classrooms, music education rooms with musical instruments, academic classrooms, a sports hall, and a restaurant serving healthy meals. The centre also features outdoor play areas. A dedicated pool facilitates swimming as a therapeutic intervention.

The centre accepts Emirati students with autism aged three to five years in the early intervention department, and those aged five to fifteen years in the autism spectrum department. Individuals above fifteen years are enrolled in the rehabilitation department.

Therapeutic interventions at the centre involve behaviour modification techniques, assistive technology, specialised educational programmes, and the use of advanced devices and modern teaching techniques, including smart boards. The centre offers seven accredited services, including assessment and diagnosis, early intervention, education, training and rehabilitation, healthcare, social integration, psychological counselling, and employment support.

Al Mansoori emphasised that therapeutic programmes are tailored to each age group and individual's specific needs, utilising internationally accredited and standardised programmes such as TEACCH, LOVAS, PECS, and Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). These programmes are customised based on each child's strengths and weaknesses, forming the cornerstone of all therapeutic processes and associated treatment plans for autism spectrum disorder.

Al Ain Autism Centre

Mouza Ahmed Al Salami, Director of the Al Ain Autism Centre affiliated with ZHO, stated that the centre provided services to 120 students, including 24 in early intervention programmes and 96 with autism. The centre annually participated in activities for World Autism Awareness Month. In 2016, it was transformed from a unit into a centre to serve a significant segment of Al Ain's population in need of specialised care for children with autism spectrum disorder.

Sheikh Khalid inaugurated the new headquarters of the Al Ain Autism Centre in Al Ain City in November 2020. The facility, covering an area exceeding 10,000 square metres, was completed by the Abu Dhabi General Services Company "Musanada" at the cost of approximately AED69 million.

Regarding autism, Al Salami defined it as a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication deficits, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour.

Autism is one of three disorders falling under ASD, with the other two being Asperger's syndrome, characterised by cognitive and linguistic developmental delays and pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Diagnosis is made when the criteria for autism or Asperger's syndrome are not met, according to the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria.

She emphasised that there are various means of integrating children with autism into society, with the first step being to educate and raise awareness about autism within the community in general and the educational community in particular.

Efforts are focused on socially integrating students with autism into various classroom and extracurricular activities with their peers in government schools. There is an emphasis on encouraging students to accept and understand their peers with autism, including their symptoms and associated behaviours.