Autism Gets Attention

There are 10 common symptoms of autism and if at least three are seen continually, parents should suspect their children have the disorder
Although autism is largely prevalent in the country, currently there is no specific evaluation program for early detection.Although autism is largely prevalent in the country, currently there is no specific evaluation program for early detection.

Temporary care centers for autistic children have been launched in Khorasan Razavi and Gilan provinces this year and are expected to be extended to other cities in the next calendar year that starts in March 2017.  

The centers take care of autistic children temporarily when their families are not able to for some reason or need a break, said Hussein Nahvinejad, the rehabilitation affairs deputy at the State Welfare Organization.

Families can also call the helpline 1480 in case of any query related to the disorder.

Nearly 300 rehabilitation and training workshops are also providing services to ensure successful transition of autistic children from childhood to adulthood. The training programs are aimed at helping these children get employment as well as use their leisure time properly.

The national document on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which has been jointly developed by the ministries of health, education and cooperatives, labor and social welfare, is expected to be implemented soon after approval from the presidency.

“A national document that lays down the strategy for comprehensive growth and development of children has already been devised by the Health Ministry,” to prevent genetic disorders in newborns, Nahvinejad was quoted as saying by IRNA.

The National Comprehensive Childhood Development Program (CCDP) is expected to come into effect by the end of the current Iranian year in March 2017.

The CCDP mainly focuses on preconception health, neonatal care as well as a child’s comprehensive development till the age eight. This is because a human brain sees its maximum growth (60%) in the first year of life, 80% by three years of age and by over 90% by eight years.

Although autism is largely prevalent in the country, currently there is no specific evaluation program for early detection. But under a new SWO initiative, early diagnosis, intervention and instructional strategies are being provided.

In this regard, the SWO has launched an online screening program through standardized questionnaires. By answering a set of simple questions, parents will know if their children have symptoms of autism. If there are any indications of autism they will be examined and treated by a team of clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and tutors. An autism educational protocol and game packages have also been prepared which will be offered to families free of charge.  

  Training Facilitators, Caregivers    

According to Nahvinejad, 2,100 children with autism are currently undergoing training in 60 centers across the country. Every three children are under the supervision of one tutor.

In addition, facilitators and caregivers are being trained to assist families with autistic children. Facilitators have to undergo several hours of training.

They are trained to provide home assistance as well. The scheme will be carried out nationwide after the pilot project in Tehran.

The official called for all executive organizations to direct their attention to autistic people.

“The Health Ministry has easier access to these patients and should put their affairs on its agenda,” said Nahvinejad adding that insurance services, which currently cover only physiotherapy treatment, must be expanded to cover occupational therapy, speech therapy and counseling as well.

The Science Ministry should envisage programs so that young autistic adults can enter higher education and Iran’s Technical and Vocational Training Organization should make plans for their employment. “These children must be able to earn their own livelihoods when they are adults as their parents will eventually grow old and unable to take their responsibility.”

It is also essential to raise public awareness about the disorder.

Referring to housing of families with autistic and disabled children, the official said that regular apartments don’t fit the requirements of the physically challenged and they often face trouble when having to move about.

“The SWO has agreements with several organizations for the housing of families with more than two disabled members, but families with members suffering from autism, chronic mental disorders or even a disabled also needs attention.”

In cooperation with the Law Enforcement Forces, specific wristbands are set to be designed for the mentally challenged who are likely to go missing such as the elderly and those with Alzheimer’s and other mental illnesses, as well as those with autism.

“The wristbands will help the police to identify and send them back to their homes.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior.

As ASD is often diagnosed when it is too late for intervention, it imposes a great burden on society. That is why the SWO has planned to take action for timely screening and diagnosis through standard tests.

  Symptoms to Watch

Maryam Pour Seyyed, head of SWO’s rehabilitation centers, pointed to the ten most common symptoms of autism, calling on families to look out for them.

Autistic children often do not imitate adults like normal children would do while playing or learning a skill.  They sometimes show behavior indicating intense fear or shock for no reason.

To get the object they want, they tend to use gestures rather than words. When excited, they emit shrill sounds like “eee”. When people praise them or try to entertain them, they are not happy and often keep staring at a point. They do not respond to others’ presence and avoid eye contact and look away when others look at them.

Autistic children use the word “I” incorrectly and do not use it to refer to themselves. They tend to move their arms and fingers before their eyes or by their side fluttering like a bird. They also tend to excessively smell objects like toys.

She warned families to be alert about these symptoms and suspect autism if at least three of the symptoms are seen continually. 

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