PESHAWAR: The speakers at a training-cum-seminar have emphasized awareness and a close coordination at the family and school levels to manage autism which is a developmental disorder in children.
Horizon, a welfare-based non-governmental organization which works in the mental health sector, had arranged the event at the Ibadat Hospital auditorium in collaboration with the World Psychiatric Association (WPA). A United Kingdom-based psychiatrist and the WPA President-elect Dr Afzal Javed was the chief guest.
The resource persons were Noor Us Saher Shabnam, Director, Brightpath Highland Park Childcare Centre, Canada, and a budding psychiatrist, Dr Ali Ahsan Mufti, who has a passion for the child psychiatry.
Prof Dr Khalid Mufti, a senior psychiatrist and WPA Zone 15 president, welcomed the participants. In attendance were teachers and parents, whose children were suffering from autism, psychologists, psychiatrists and journalists.
The doctor, who is Horizon Chairman and Ibadat Hospital Chief Executive, said that autistic disorders in children are highlighted as the awareness is carried through. He said autism is a developmental disability that affects information processing, social interaction and communication skills, adding the autistic children lack the understanding of the outside world. However, the expert added, they could be educated and trained in coping with the situation.
The mental health expert, who has served as principal of the Khyber Medical College and head of the Psychiatry departments of the Lady Reading and Khyber Teaching hospitals, deplored a few facilities for the autistic children in Pakistan, and even the scarce ones were expensive. He said he desired to set up an affordable centre at the Ibadat Hospital and launched efforts for that three years back.
“The Horizon arranged seminars and training sessions. People from various sections were engaged. The purpose was very practical – to set up a Daycare Centre for Autistic Children. This training-cum-seminar is a step for realizing that desire,” he explained.
Dr Khalid Mufti said Horizon had already sent a staff member to Islamabad to undergo training and she would act as a lead person at the proposed centre. He thanked Dr Afzal Javed, Noor Us Saher Shabnam, Dr Samina Said, Vice-President of Pakistan Psychiatric Society, elderly psychiatrist Dr Muhammad Younas Khan Umarzai and other participants.
The first main speaker Dr Ali Ahsan Mufti dwelt at length on various aspects of autism. He said autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life, affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. He talked of autism types — mild, moderate, severe and partial.
Dr Ali said autism could be recognised if a child has impaired communication with family and teachers, reduced social and emotional interaction, irritability and disruptive behaviour in unfamiliar surroundings.
He mentioned autism clinical features such as less social interaction, impairment in communication, behavioural and cognitive abnormalities. The speaker pointed to the screening tools, behavioural therapies, Applied Behaviour Analysis and recommended activities.
Dr Ali said an autistic child has a poor use of social signals and weak integration of social, emotional and communicative behaviour, fails to make eye-to-eye contact with people, is unable to develop normal speech, cannot communicate by gestures, body movements or facial expressions and has restricted, repetitive and stereotyped pattern of behavior.
The invited guest speaker and noted resource person, Noor Us Saher Shabnam, shared her experience about “Skill development in children with autism.”
The speaker, who is working for children with speech delays and behavioural issues in the early intervention programme at Calgary in Canada, touched common issues in autistic people in the interactive session.
The issues included low social interactions, same pattern behaviours, repetitive body movements, inflexible routines and overwhelming interests in some tasks. She offered solutions by telling how to work with the families having autistic children.
The next part of the programme had a question-answer session moderated by Dr Khalid Mufti. The participants made suggestions as well. Among the proposals were tools for mothers and teachers to deal with autistic children, home-based management and classes for parents.
Prof Dr Tariq Mufti, Dr Samina Said, Dr Janbaz Afridi, Dr Hakeem Jilani and Psychologist Kiran Ali called for a greater role for teachers and doctors in the interventions, awareness-raising in rural communities and advised against going for a loose diagnosis. The speakers gave examples of scientists who were autistic during childhood.
The senior most primary healthcare physician, who has served the rural psychiatry, Dr Muhammad Younas Khan Umarzai, was given the lifetime achievement award. He received the award amid standing ovation.
Dr Afzal Javed in his address praised Dr Khalid Mufti and Horizon for the work in the mental health sector and offered all cooperation from the WPA. He distributed certificates and souvenirs.