About 200 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) receive treatment at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) each year, a senior official has said.
“Children aged five to 18 years, who have been diagnosed with an ASD are closely observed and followed up with a specialised medical rehabilitation programme,” explained Dr Madeeha Kamal, senior paediatrics consultant at HMC.
Globally one in 68 children has an ASD, with the prevalence among males being four times higher than females.
The Child Development Center at Rumailah Hospital and the Paediatrics Department at Hamad General Hospital are providing co-ordinated, multi-disciplinary care for children, adolescents, and families affected by ASD.
Dr Kamal stated that the number of children diagnosed with ASD is currently on the rise, which she attributes partly to increased awareness of the disorder.
She added that children with ASD are referred to HMC from schools (upon their parents’ consent), from health centres and private hospitals.
Early warning signs can include behavioural patterns such as violence, solitude, introversion and a lack of integration with other children; adding that teachers often identify behaviours that parents or other caregivers may not pick up on.
She explained that ASD varies from one child to another and is diagnosed according to severity. “Severe cases of ASD are normally diagnosed when a child is very young, whereas children with mild symptoms may go undetected for some time. If parents notice any usual signs or symptoms, such as speech difficulties, poor communication with others, violent behaviour, etc., they should immediately consult a specialist,” said Dr
HMC, in collaboration with the Primary Health Care Corp, is working to promote early diagnosis and detection of ASD through focusing on training health centre physicians to recognise the condition, specifically during a child’s vaccination appointments.
Children diagnosed with ASD are referred to the Child Development Center at Rumailah Hospital.
Dr Suna Fayed, consultant in Child Rehabilitation and director of the Autism Programme at the Child Development Center, describes autism as a ‘life-long behavioural developmental disorder’.“ASD is the name for a group of developmental disorders that includes a wide range, “a spectrum,” of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability.
Some children may experience mild signs and symptoms, which they can normally tolerate and live independently with, whereas others need life-long support.
The first symptoms usually show up in the first three years of a child’s life.” 
“Core symptoms of ASD include difficulty in communicating and interacting with others; repetitive behaviours and restricted interests and activities; all of which can contribute to ongoing social problems for the individual and the carers,” Dr Fayed said.
Dr Fayed stressed the importance of tolerance and sensitivity when caring for, and interacting with, children with autism and their families.
She said it is important to create an enabling environment, respecting privacy and abilities and creating an environment that enhances self-confidence.”It is important to provide relevant education and guidance that empowers children and their families and integrates them into the community,” she added.
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