• 4/7/2015
    To commemorate World Autism Awareness Month, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) recently organized activities to show support for children and families affected by autism and highlight the need to provide a better quality and more socially integrated way of life through the development of collaborative services.

    HMC actively participated in the ‘Autism Speaks: Light it Blue’ initiative by illuminating its major hospital buildings in blue for two nights to show support for local autistic children and their families.

    Also, HMC in partnership with Sick Kids, the Hospital for Sick Children - Canada, recently led a multi-organization workshop, focusing on the future of autism services in Qatar. It is hoped that the outcomes of the workshop, entitled: ‘Autism Services for Children in Qatar: Challenges, Opportunities and the Way Forward,’ will contribute to the development of a national plan for autism care in the country.

    The workshop was organized to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day by Dr. Haitham El Bashir, Senior Consultant and Head of Children Rehabilitation at HMC, in collaboration with HMC’s Office for Corporate Child Health. The workshop brought together international and local expertise, including collaborators from Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and the Sick Kids Hospital, Canada, alongside representatives from numerous healthcare, education and rehabilitation services from across Qatar. Local autism groups and parents of children with autism also attended on the day.

    Dr. El Bashir explained: “Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder directly associated with impaired social interaction and communication skills. Understanding and relating to other people can be difficult for someone with autism. Children with autism can have exceptional skills and abilities, but they may need to be supported in a different way. The proper support is invaluable to children with autism and their families and will directly affect how they enter adulthood. Healthcare, education and social services should all contribute to supporting their success.”

    Dr. El Bashir said his department receives over 200 children with autism yearly and that various medical and rehabilitation services are offered by HMC to children of all ages. The services include occupational and speech therapy, special education, family education and psychiatric services, as well as rehabilitation and treatment interventions.

    In discussing the public perception of autism, Dr. Bashir explained that it is often misinterpreted as bad behavior in children and the condition is generally misunderstood; it carries a social stigma. Raising public understanding should be a key part of any future plan.
    He added: “Autism is usually evident in the early years of a child’s life, before the age of three. Parents who are concerned that their children are displaying signs of autism should seek medical advice, as early detection is linked to better outcomes.”

    Keynote speakers presenting at the workshop offered insight into international best practices and the types of challenges faced world-wide by both service providers and people with autism. Dr. Joelene Huber, Developmental Pediatrician at Sick Kids and St Michael’s Hospitals, Canada, and Assistant Professor in the Division of Developmental Pediatrics at the University of Toronto, presented on the topic of ‘Toward a Brighter Future for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders’. Martha Pilkington, Operations Manager for the Child Development Center and Autism Program at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, presented an overview of autism services in Canada.

    Closing the workshop, Dr. El Bashir expressed his delight in hosting this important event. “This is an important first step towards government and private organizations working collaboratively to ensure that children and adults with autism are effectively supported and are able to succeed, not separately but inclusively with the rest of society.”