Karachi : May 2014: Autism is a behaviorally defined life-long disorder of higher cortical function, with onset in early childhood that affects sociability, language and communication, play, and range of interests and activities. It is estimated that in USA 1 out of 100 children is autistic, whereas in India 1 out of 250 children is autistic. In Pakistan, there is no statistical data of autistic children. Unfortunately there is very little awareness about Autism in Pakistan. Similarly there are very few places where these children can be managed. Early detection and early intervention has a positive impact on children with Autism.
Teaching and training of these children requires thorough professionals and specialized equipment. There is need to have support with government and policy makers for implementation of Autistic Rehabilitation Centre at local and national level. It is stressed that PMDC and CPSP may be advised to highlight Autism at under graduate and post graduate curriculum of Paediatrics, which will create a general awareness and management of Autism. These views were expressed by experts at an Awareness Seminar titled “Autism – A Silent Cry for help in Pakistan” organized recently, by Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) at Arag Auditorium of Dow Medical College. The aim of the Seminar was to raise awareness about Autism among the general practitioners and public.
Secretary Health, Iqbal Hussain Durrani speaking as the Chief Guest on the occasion said that; Autistic children need special attention. Early detection and treatment will result in cure at early stage. He stressed the need to create awareness about Autism among the masses. He said that the government was committed to the cause of raising Autism awareness and praised the efforts of DUHS for this cause. He also assured audience of his full support and cooperation in this regard.
Prof. Masood Hameed Khan, Vice Chancellor, DUHS informed that Dow University, keeping in view the severity of the disease, established an Autism Unit at its Institute of Physical Medical and Rehabilitation Centre, DUHS which is providing treatment to the Autistic Children. He further said that Dow always strives to address health issues in the community, Autism being one of them. He commended the efforts and achievements of DUHS team and also thanked the Secretary Health for his support and encouragement.
The program started with “An Overview of Autism” by Dr. Ayesha Sarwat, Assistant Professor Psychiatry, DIMC, DUHS. “An Update on Centre for Child Development” was given by Prof. Dr. Aisha Mehnaz, Chairperson Dept. of Pediatrics, DUHS. She said that this centre was established in response to the need felt for dealing with increasing number of cases of neuro-developmental, learning and behavioral disorders and with the vision of helping children suffering from developmental disorders, become a functional part of the society. She informed the audience that facilities for Psychological assessment & counseling, Medical Check-up, Developmental Assessment, Nutritional advice and Speech therapy were available to manage different disorders like Cerebral Palsy, Acquired Brain Injury, Epileptic Disorders, Autism, ADHD and Chromosomal disorders.
Later, Dr. Nabila Soomro, Director IPM&R, DUHS gave an update about Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (IPM&R) DUHS. She said several services were available at this institute to manage patients requiring rehabilitation. These included four major departments i.e. Physiotherapy, Occupational therapy, Prosthetics and Orthotics and Cardiac Rehabilitation in addition to several other specialized units like: Neuro-psychological Unit, Centre for Child Development, Autism Unit, Sensory Advanced Unit etc. She also said that trained faculty and staff were available for provision of these services.
Students of IPM&R presented an informational skit on autism, role of physicians and what parents should do. This was followed by an introduction to Dow Autism Unit, by Ms. Irum Rizwan – Head of Autism Unit, IPMR, DUHS. She said that this was a well-equipped unit providing affordable services to children with autism. Ms. Denise Hashim – Head of Learning Disorder Services, IPM&R, DUHS then gave a video presentation on the important role of Sensory Integration in Autism.
Parents and siblings of children with Autism then shared their experiences with the audience stressing on the importance of proper guidance for relatives of children with autism. Famous singer and activist Shahzad Roy expressed his support for the cause of autism awareness and dedicated a song to children with Autism, as he was also requested to act as the Ambassador of Autism in Pakistan. The program ended with a Certificates-Distribution Ceremony.