(R) Kimberly Hendon, Dr Fouad Al Shaban
There is no cure for autism – it is a lifelong disease – Qatar Foundation experts said in a recent webinar titled “Autism: Comorbidities and Behavioral Challenges”, but intervention and treatment can improve long-term outcomes, especially if diagnosed early.
The webinar was organized as part of a larger series of collaborative discussions on autism taking place throughout April – which is Autism Awareness Month – bringing together experts from across the Qatar Foundation (QF) to shed light on the developmental disorder which, according to the World Health Organization, affects approximately one in 100 children worldwide.
“Please understand there is no cure,” said Kimberly Hendon, autism specialist and behavioral consultant, The Learning Center (TLC), part of pre-university education of QF.
“It’s so hard. We get a lot of parents who come to us and ask us questions about their child: ‘When will he be normal?’, ‘When will this behavior stop?’ is he going to be okay?” And that’s one of those questions that we don’t set a deadline for because we don’t have an answer. If we say ‘he’ll be okay’, it’s not is not a realistic truth to give you.
But, according to specialists, the intervention and treatment will have a significant impact on the condition. “The earlier the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, the better the prognosis, the better the outcome,” said Dr Fouad Al Shaban, senior researcher at the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University, QF member.
“Diagnosing the disease in the first year of life is difficult but doable. If we diagnose it before the age of two, that is the best situation in terms of starting intervention and treatment.
Echoing Dr Fouad, Hendon said, “The sooner you get intervention, the more you can maximize therapy outcomes and meet whatever needs an autistic person may have. And having the right diagnosis is just as important as early intervention.
Every child has different needs, she explained, so it’s all about assessing what a child needs in terms of services and treatments and constantly monitoring plans, because as a child progresses , new behaviors will emerge – and sometimes they may regress. Roadmaps will change as a child grows, Hendon added, because social skills in kindergarten are completely different at the 12th grade level when a youngster makes the transition to life after school.
“If you notice that a certain therapy isn’t working, or you don’t see a certain level of change, have that communication; be your child’s advocate,” she said. “It’s good to try several therapies; there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Among the schools in QF’s early education portfolio are Renad Academy, which specializes in helping children with autism, and Awsaj Academy, which supports students with mild to moderate learning needs.