Globally, access to services and support for people with ASD is inadequate.
Globally, access to services and support for people with ASD is inadequate.

Tackling Autism Early

300 rehabilitation and training workshops in Iran are providing services to ensure successful transition of autistic children from childhood to adulthood

Tackling Autism Early

The ninth annual World Autism Awareness Day was observed in Iran along with the rest of the world on April 2, when landmarks in the capital cities were decorated with blue lighting in support of the developmental disability worldwide under the global initiative called ‘Autism Speaks: Light It Up Blue’.

Every year, autism organizations around the world celebrate the day with unique fundraising and awareness-raising events. In Iran, the two iconic markers, the Nature Bridge and Milad Tower, were lit up in blue to show solidarity with the world, as people converged on the two sites to raise awareness and hand out brochures.

Autism spectrum disorders are a series of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. ASDs are often diagnosed when it is too late for intervention and  imposes a great burden on society.

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

Temporary care centers for autistic children were launched in Khorasan Razavi and Gilan provinces late last year (ended March 20) and are planned to be extended to other cities.  

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

The national document on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which was jointly developed by the ministries of health, education and cooperatives, labor and social welfare, is expected to be implemented this year.

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

  From Awareness to Acceptance

It is estimated that one in 160 children worldwide has ASD. People with ASD are often subject to stigma and discrimination, and globally, access to services and support for people with ASD is inadequate. Although most developed countries are now shifting their activities from raising awareness to encouraging acceptance and tolerance towards people with ASD, Iran still needs to focus on educating the society.

Despite the prevalence of the illness in the country, there has never been a specific evaluation program for early detection, and a tiny section of the population is familiar with the spectrum.

However, the SWO has recently 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. They can take their children to SWO centers for diagnosis. Around 700 children have been referred to the centers since last December when the online scheme was launched and 20 cases were diagnosed as having ASD.

An autism educational protocol and game packages have also been prepared which will be offered to families free of charge.

Additionally, over 20,000 children have so far been examined under a nationwide autism screening project by the SWO. There are 3,000 children with ASD registered at the welfare organization.

  Training Facilitators, Caregivers    

According to Nahvinejad, the children with autism at the SWO are currently undergoing training in 60 centers. 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 urged executive organizations to direct their attention to autistic people, stressing that the Science Ministry should envisage programs so that young autistic adults can enter higher education and Iran’s Technical and Vocational Training Organization should plan 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 be unable to take their responsibility.”

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 identify them and return them home.

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