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July 4, 2020

AKU announces free mental health therapy training for parents of children with special needs

Karachi

July 4, 2020

The Aga Khan University said on Friday it had partnered with a range of organisations to launch free of charge, online capacity building sessions for parents of children with mental health issues and developmental disorders whose treatment has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative brings together professionals from across the country, including developmental paediatricians, speech and occupational therapists, child psychiatrists, paediatric psychologists and student volunteers.

The sessions will see parents receive training on how to deliver rehabilitative care and essential therapies at home if they are unable to access the usual support. For example, instructors will guide parents on how to provide therapies to help children with developmental delays to improve their functional independence, and assist parents in managing behavioural issues that have emerged during the pandemic.

Direct sessions between therapists and adolescents facing psychological challenges will also be offered, emphasising stress management techniques.

“Children dealing with development delays or behavioural disorders need ongoing, special attention,” said Dr Ayesha Mian, associate professor of psychiatry at the AKU. “This pandemic has widened disparities in access to essential mental healthcare and our initiative seeks to help parents continue therapy for their children at home.”

Many people are suffering from feelings of fear and anxiety due to the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. However, parents of children with special needs must also cope with the fear of their child’s development regressing due to the disruption in their therapy.

“Children on the autism spectrum can regress and lose the gain they had made in speech therapy,” said Fatima Karim, one of the initiative’s lead organisers and a master’s degree student at AKU. “Those with conduct disorders may become aggressive towards siblings or pets. Adolescent boys and girls may find changes in mood, sleep or appetite. Such behaviours may get worse with a gap in care.”

“For a developing nation like ours, this initiative would be a game changer in terms of cost-effective provision of mental health support to all eligible children based on their needs rather than diagnostic labels,” said Dr Sidra Kaleem Jafri, assistant professor of pediatrics and child health at AKU. “For professionals, this is an opportunity to equip themselves with innovative health care delivery skills and help parents support their children.”

Considering the need for such support for parents, Dr Sarah Saleem, professor of community health sciences at the AKU and the principal investigator of the project, mentioned that the team hoped to continue the project until the lockdowns were eased.

The initiative is part of a large coalition, Pakistan COVID Mental Health Response, which offers free mental health services through various programmes to those affected by distress during the pandemic.

The partners include AKU’s departments of community health sciences, psychiatry, and paediatrics and child health; Taskeen Health Initiative; Interactive Research & Development; Saaya Health Tech; and the Community Innovation Hub through Sehat Kahani. The programme is being supported by the British Asian Trust, CareTech and Cosaraf Charitable Foundation.

Parents or guardians can book an appointment for free training sessions by sending an email to [email protected] or by calling the helpline 021-37136019.