AUTISM IN UAE
Autismin the UAE
Autismis one of the core disabilities in society that call for specialattention. A disability is defined as physical,emotional, developmental or mental impairment that has a`substantial` and `long-term` negative impact on one’s ability toengage regular activities. One of the developmental disorders thatresults in disability is autism. This paper addresses autism andissues surrounding it and places it in the context of UAE.
Autismor classical autism is the most common form of development disorderin a group of development disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASDs). Other disorders in this spectrum include Asperger syndrome,and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmentaldisorder. Autism as a disorder is characterized by insistence ofsameness and resistance to change, difficulty in expressing needs,aloof behavior, tantrums, difficulty in social interactions, unevenor gross motor skills, not responsive to verbal cues though not deafand unresponsiveness to normal teaching methods. Such symptoms havecreated challenges for the education sector in accommodating suchchildren in universal education.
Prevalenceof autism is on an upward trend according to data from the last 50years. The World Health Organization estimates prevalence at one inevery 160 children. The disorder contributes to 0.3% of the globalburden of disease. For new births, one case of autism is reported forevery 88 births in the US which is a 23% increase since 2009.Previous figures showed that autism was reported in one out of110births in the US. It is however assumed that previous autisticcases were dismissed as intellectual disabilities (WHO 2013).
Thereare no definite causes of autism that have been discovered so far.However, there are indications that genetics, genetic mutations andthe environment play a key. This has resulted into different ahypotheses. One of them posits that the condition is caused by acombination of genetic sand environmental influences. However, theactual relationship between the two remains unclear. Anotherhypothesis deduced is that the variation in the interaction andinterplay between the genetic and environmental influences contributeto the observed heterogeneity in the autism phenotype (Landirgan2010).
Dethand colleagues (2008) explored to a great depth the role of theenvironment in causation of autism. Their interest in the role of theenvironment is based on the argument that the environment must haveplayed a role in the rapid increase in prevalence which can also beattributed to better diagnosis. In their hypothesis, they suggestthat exposure to xenobiotics which has increased in recent times as aresult of industrial development increases the risk of autism.Specifically, heavy metals and in particular sulfur affects cellularfunction. Sulfur has already been linked to several diseases anddisorders. They include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADHD), lower IQ and neurodegenerative disorders includingParkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Studies on autisticchildren have shown a pattern of abnormalities indicative ofoxidative stress and impaired methylation caused by exposure tosulfur and other heavy metals. These heavy metals inhibit methioninesynthase that is needed to convert homocysteine (HCY) to methionine.This process is critical for synchronization of brain activity duringattention. Impaired synchronization features strongly in autisticchildren who have inability to give attention to one thing at a time(ibid).
Fromthe genetic hypothesis, researchers have observed recurrence ofautism along family lines and in certain genes. Landiragn (2010) saysthat previous studies have identified potential causal genes inchromosomes 7q, 15q and 2q in most autistic children. Mutations havealso been observed especially in one gene name SHANK3 which encodes asynaptic scaffolding protein and is associated with ASD. The geneticfactor accounts for 7-8% of autism cases, a view which is alsosupported by prevalence variation across gender divide with boysbeing 3-5 times more likely to develop autism (ibid).
Autismposes several psychological and behavioral implications on theautistic children and the people close to them and society ingeneral. Autistic children as earlier indicated as part of thesymptoms engage in repetitive behavior. Engagement in such activitiesmostly happens when they are nervous or upset. These repetitiveactions tend to calm their emotions. They may include shrugging,tapping and even grimacing but vary from child to another. In mostcases, these children engage in such behaviors subconsciously. Forthose untrained or unaware of such tendencies, they may judge or seekto disrupt such behaviors inappropriately leading to sometimesviolent reactions or tantrums (Hansen& Rogera 2012).
Tantrumsand oppositional behavior are also evident in autistic children.These temper tantrums often involve violent, destructive andsometimes injurious behavior to others and themselves. These tantrumsare a response to environmental constraints or changes. Given thatthese tantrums may occur in new environments, it makes it hard forsuch children to interact with other children and society on a normallevel. For instance, autistic children may be opposed to a new schoolor a new teacher in class. It general, such children are most likelyto respond negatively to changes in their environment throughtantrums and oppositional behavior that can vary from mild toinjurious (Hansen& Rogera 2012).
Theincreased cases of autism in the UAE and globally have called formore specialized responses to autism. For families and parents thathave an autistic child or close family member, they experience uniquechallenges in dealing with such cases. Previously, there was verylittle research on autism and the condition was in some cases linkedto witchcraft and even the spirit world. Obaidli(2006) says that in the UAE the government is still relatively new inimplementing the right policies and structures to support gifted andspecial education cases in the country. The Dubai Autism center notesthat there is need to increase public knowledge and awareness of thedisorder in the country to make it easier for parents and familymembers with such children to cope. For many parents, they havetrouble interacting with other families and the public due tomisconception about their ‘antisocial and tantrum throwing kids’(Crabtree 2007). Parents, family members and society at large need tobe trained and educated on how to develop adaptive behaviors toaccommodate autistic children and their families.
Educationsystems in given countries have the mandate to institute relevantinterventional policies. One of the ways is creating awareness of theprevalence of autism in society. In the UAE, there is need to callfor proper government resources in instituting the right educationpolicies. Experts in autism studies however, indicate that there areno blanket policies in handling education of autistic children. Theycall for schools and educators to evaluate prospective interventionsfor autistic children on an individual basis guided by evidence basedmethods. There are several models developed through research toassist in educational intervention. They include the discrete trialteaching model also known as Lovaas Model, the Differencerelationship Model, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS),Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), Training and Education of Autisticand Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) and VerbalBehavior (VB) among others. Each of these models seeks to enlightenteachers and handlers on the best approaches to engaging autisticchildren in the education process. Various autism advocacy andspecial interest groups have embarked on creating awarenesspertaining to these models. One of these groups is Autism Speaksbased in America with a global reach (Autism speaks 2014).
AutismSpeaks is an autism advocacy group based in the US that is largelyinvolved in research in autism. The group creates public awarenessabout autism as a disorder both targeting families and educators inthe filed through their website (http://www.autismspeaks.org/).One of the models that is well addressed by the websites pertains tothe TEACCH model in educational intervention for autism cases. Themodel developed by researchers at University of North Carolina aimsto train educators and clinicians on managing and coping with autismscases trough educational intervention. As a supporter of the model,the organization’s page carries clear message on the modelindicating what the model is involved in. for instance, the modelwebpage clearly indicates that the model does not mean a newcurriculum for educators for autistic children but rather a frameworkto support achievement of educational and therapeutic goalscomprising of physical organization, individualized schedules, worksystems and visual structure of materials in tasks and activities.However, there are no advanced suggestions and training on parents onthe model. This applies to parents who choose to home train theirchildren. Furthermore, the cons of the model should be stated clearas a matter of precaution.
Thesecond webpage that addresses autism relevant to this case belongs toDubai Autism Center (http://www.dubaiautismcenter.ae/).Dubai Autism Center was established in November 2001 and is mandatedto promote better understanding of autism through creating publicawareness and providing specialist services to people living withautism and those affected by it. The website also offers a socialsupport club program for families of children with autism from whichthey can share, comfort and learn from one another. Through thisprogram the organization carries out workshops and seminars toencourage siblings and parents to share information and open up abouttheir experiences in dealing with autism. It is clear that thewebsite thus targets to address actual persons on the ground ratherthan professionals such as teachers in managing autism. Though thewebsite also announces consultation services, it is clear it is moreoriented towards person and families living with people with autism.This however does not mean that professionals such as teachers haveto role to play.
Teachershave a central role to play in autism matters. Their role is veryprominent in dealing with autistic children. For one, teachers haveto apply the right teaching methods such as the previously mentionedones. Other than that, they have to be aware of their impact on thebehavior of their autistic pupils. For instance, they should beconsistent to avoid upsetting pupils and should also make learn toexplain changes using visual tools.
Thediscussion above shows the progress made in managing autism and thepresent challenges facing the UAE and the world at large. The mostworrying thing is that human activities have actively contributedtowards increased cases of autism among other diseases such as cancerand Alzheimer’s disease. It is not yet clear how bet the world canrespond to these changes as some of the changes in the environmentthrough industrialization have caused irreparable. It is alsopossible that much of these damages have not been realized yet.Either way, the disorder must be managed competently to improve theexperiences of the affected. Special education is just one among themany ways to help.
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