Autism in the UAE
It is alarming that many children in the UAE are diagnosed with autism today. An increase in the rates of autism implies an increased financial burden and emotional fall-out among parents. The heavy financial burden relates to the costs incurred on the therapy and treatment of autistic children. On the other hand, the emotional fall-out relates to the whole family especially to parents who could hardly believe that one of their children or their own child is suffering from this dreaded condition. Chaudhary (2012) affirms that global statistics indicate that one in every 88 children will be diagnosed with autism. Accordingly, the UAE does not have a clear statistics on this, but one of the staff members at the Dubai Autism Center (DAC) said the following. The country exhibits similar statistics and prevalence as the rest of the world. For instance, there were only 15 reported autism cases in the country in 2001; but this number has doubled after two years. According to Carroll (2014), the Dubai Autism Center (DAC) reports that it is engaging in the therapy and treatment of 44 children. It indicates that there are 200 cases still waiting to join. The Abu Dhabi Autism Center also has indicated that it is already taking care of 56 autistic children, but still waiting for 200 more kids.
One of the most significant reasons for the increase of autism cases in the country is the current level of awareness of the condition and improved diagnosis and assessment techniques. It has led to the diagnosis of more cases of autism across the country. Carroll (2014) informs that families with children suffering from autism bear massive financial burdens as autism centers in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi charge at least Dh140000 for therapy sessions and the treatment of autistic children. In addition to this, schools charge Dh30000 for the provision of special education to these kids.
This paper presents the results of the survey conducted on teachers handling autistic children at the New England Center for Children in Abu Dhabi.
In tandem with the survey conducted, the teacher in the special needs’ department has confirmed the following thing. There has been a high percentage of autistic children currently in the UAE. The high percentage of autistic cases in the country emanates from a diagnostic substitution where teachers and clinicians have established the best ways of diagnosing autistic students. It is unlike in the past where teachers found it difficult to identify kids that need the special attention because of autism. Chaudhary (2012) holds the view that this has increased the overall rate of autism from one in 68 children to one in 88 children over the past decade. According to the teacher, this represents an increase in 30% in the number of autistic cases being diagnosed and reported in the country.
Another vital result found during the survey is that autism is a learning and mental disorder among children. It is commonly identified as a learning disorder because it makes it difficult for kids to learn normally if they would have been without the condition. These children usually need a regular assistance and closer monitoring. Hence, it categorizes them under the special needs in the education system. Teachers at the New England Center for Children in Abu Dhabi have insisted that autism is the learning disorder because it impairs both verbal and the non-verbal communication among children. Barrell (2009) asserts that autistic children are not able to make some informed learning decisions on their own. They always need a regular support and close attention in the learning environment. More so, it is categorized as a mental disorder because of its effect on the brain. The survey results have indicated that autism massively affects the capacity of the brain to process information by altering nerve cells and their synapses. The slow processing capacity of it among these children affects the process of learning hence qualifying it directly as a learning and mental disorder that needs an urgent address.
Additionally, the results of the survey conducted have indicated that it is true that most signs of condition appear between 0 and 3 years. Joshi, Percy and Brown (2011) insist that this age frame is a vital period for parents to notice common signs associated with autism. The general symptoms that could be detected at this early age among children include impaired social interaction, repetitive behavior, and defective development of both verbal and non-verbal language. Accordingly, these children might not respond to their names or might not exhibit the interactive habits of a normal child. Parents have the role of diagnosing these symptoms early enough and ensuring they begin the relevant therapy from an early age for their offspring. Joshi et al. (2011) agree with the responses given by teachers pointing to the view that at least 50% of them are not diagnosed early enough. It should be done at the ages of 0 to 3 years hence leading to the delayed therapy among them.
The issue of socialization among children with autism has been also researched. The results of the survey have highlighted the view that autistic children have a high level of social impairments. In their responses, teachers at the New England Center for Children have indicated that autistic children do not develop normal social skills. They always lack intuition for other people. However, it is always taken for granted by many people including parents hence worsening the situation. Samson, et al. (2013) affirms that impaired social development occurs from an early childhood when children exhibit less attention to social stimuli and smiles. More so, they never respond to their names or jokes by others when called by their parents or other people. Severe cases of social impairment witnessed kids with high-functioning autism. According to the results of the study, the low social skills among autistic kids have been instrumental in contributing loneliness and instances of aggression toward others from their earlier years. A consistent lack of social skills among these children also contributes to tantrums and the rampant destruction of property. They never seem to care about anything in their immediate environments.
The survey results have also agreed to the view that an autistic child has poor communication skills and cannot express himself/herself in the most required manner. Samson, et al. (2013) agrees with the results of the survey. It has revealed that nearly 30-50% of autistic children do not always have a privilege of developing an adequate natural speech to meet their daily communication. Differences in communication are usually visible from the first years and might include the aspects such as a delayed start of babbling, unsynchronized vocal patterns, and unusual gestures. They make it difficult for them to communicate effectively. They experience problems expressing themselves and have poor communication skills that stop them from sharing their experiences. They only have the tendency of repeating the words said by other people. The results from the survey have indicated that it is facilitated by the less frequent consonants, words, babbling, and word combinations among these children. The survey results have gone ahead to agree with the following view. Autistic children have a hard time paraphrasing any sentence. It is especially because of the deficient joint attention skills that they develop. Impaired development of language ensures that they do not have the capacity to paraphrase any given sentence. Barrell (2009) holds the opinion that autistic children perform dismally in diverse tasks such as figurative language, inference, and comprehension. A perfect example reflected in the results of the survey is that these children would focus on the pointing hand instead of focusing on the objected being pointed at. Thus, they cannot come up with single paraphrases to sentences because of the challenges they experience in respect to the imaginative play and developing symbols into language.
Accordingly, the results of the study also have revealed that autistic children are always likely to engage in repetitive gestures to express themselves. During the survey, teachers at the New England Center for Children have agreed to the view that such kids have numerous forms of repetitive gestures that can help them express themselves. Joshi et al. (2011) claim that the Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised (RBS-R) lists these repetitive behaviors into different categories. The first one established in the survey is a stereotype that entails repetitive movements such as body rocking and hand flapping. The second vital category identified is compulsive behavior that involves arranging items such as boxes in a particular common order. A child might attempt to send a message to a caregiver by arranging boxes in the particular manner repetitively. The third category established from the research is ritualistic behavior, which entails a constant pattern of daily activities. For instance, a kid might decide not to change cloths. The last category is self-injury that involves the movements that are likely to cause an injury to a person such as nose picking and eye poking.
Another interesting finding from the survey conducted was that autistic children always have attention problems. Teachers who took part in the survey have agreed with the assertion that the attention span for an autistic child is always deficient. It is especially because they would not pay attention throughout the entire period of teaching. Samson et al. (2013) appreciates the idea that over 95% of children suffering from autism find it hard to pay attention for longer periods. Their attention is always deficient because of the boredom emanating from sitting at one place for long. It is advisable to limit the number of words teachers use when talking to these kids to decrease the instances of boredom. Again, there should be a repetition of the words made by children in a sentence to encourage them to pay attention for a longer period without necessarily being distracted by undesirable elements. There also needs to be a frequent commenting on the progress made by the child at different stages of learning in a particular lesson. It should be done to encourage them to continue participating and paying the required level of attention. Recognizing them makes it easier for them to be a part of a class and concentrate for longer periods.
On the question of whether autism is an inherited behavior, the survey results have indicated that it might be the case in some situations and not in other cases. There was no common position on this point because of different views given on the causes of autism. Most of the responses linking autism to genetics have utilized the common research on twins. Joshi et al. (2011) confirm that twins have a chance of 70% for getting autism genetically compared to individuals born alone. It also extends to their siblings, as they are 25 times more likely to suffer from autism arising from genetic inheritance. These statistical results from the survey reflect the view that autism does not primary emanate from genetic transfers. It might also arise from environmental factors that lead to the spontaneous mutation of genes among individuals. There are also the instances of spontaneous duplications or deletions of the genetic material during the process of meiosis hence leading to the condition among individuals.
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According to the survey results, it has become also clear that autistic children maintain a minimal eye contact with other people. They are not always keen on looking directly at the eyes of other people who are talking to them. Teachers at the New England Center for Children have affirmed that they experience common situations especially when trying to take these children through different lessons. The minimal eye contact is reflective of the defective social skills that autistic children develop in a course of their illness. They do not always have the confidence of getting too close to any person through such aspects as eye contact. More so, it is indicative of their limited ability to pay attention to different matters. Samson et al. (2013) opines that eye contact is usually associated with effective concentration and understanding of the content transmitted to these children. However, they always lack the patience to pay the full attention through the fixed eye contact over a long period. Parents should start training their children on the significant skills of maintaining eye contact from their earlier years. It should be done to ensure that they understand all the content that is passed on to them by teachers and their peers.
The results of the survey have disagreed with the view that autistic children have general normal eating habits. Joshi et al. (2011) assert that undesirable eating habits occur in 75% of autistic children especially because of their ritualistic behaviors. The latter ones do not allow them to change the eating menu. They tend to insist on the particular meals, which is indicative of poor feeding habits. In terms of this, selectivity is believed to be the most significant contributor to their defective eating. Unusual eating behaviors are always noticeable from a younger age when these children keep insisting on the particular patterns of doing things opposite to what normal kids might be doing. Nevertheless, the survey results have indicated that the poor eating habits among these children do not necessarily lead to malnutrition. It is because, at least, autistic kids get a chance to eat something. Most of them also exhibit gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms that impair their eating patterns. Gastrointestinal symptoms affect the uptake of food and tend to lead to the preference of particular unvarying diets among them. Therefore, teachers at the institutions are more careful when students possess these habits. They take an initiative to ensure that they are gradually introduced to required eating habits being vital for their growth and proper development. It should be done the same as it happens in normal children.
The survey also has come up with results that autistic children are usually resistant to a change. In most instances, they will have an obsession for or sameness. They believe in doing things in a particular manner. They would be resistant to any new things they are introduced to. Teachers involved in the survey hold an opinion that changing some things such as a play abruptly is always likely to affect the cooperation with autistic children. According to Barrell (2009), the elimination of sameness in their system affects every plan they might have in terms of their growth. Apart from this, the results have also pointed to the view that these children experience challenges when their classroom routines are changed abruptly. They tend to throw tantrums at the change of their routine hence indicating their resistance to shift. The key problem for them is to transfer from one event to another. Therefore, teachers state that they have coordinated their efforts and have tried to maintain their structure and routine to ensure that kids are not disrupted from their growth progress. Where the structure and routine is not maintained, they always help children adapt to change using aspects. It includes as visual schedules, visual metaphors, and the illustration of the view that categories can easily change from one period to the next one.
In the study, there has been also a need of understanding the actions of autistic children before and after treatment. Before this, autistic kids act in line with the common symptoms associated with autism. For instance, the results have revealed that they would always have difficulties in the construction of their speech, paying attention, interacting with other people, and eating in the required manner. They stick to their old habits. It might affect their adult life in cases where urgent measures are not taken to treat these children. Joshi et al. (2011) support the view that the common therapies offered include educational and behavioral interventions. These sessions are instrumental in helping children develop language and social skills. They are available at the New England Center for Children. Another treatment is medications that are usually focused on the treatment of specific symptoms such as depression. In essence, the results of the survey have indicated that autistic kids are always likely to improve in their actions after treatment. Joshi et al. (2011) point out that at least 90% of them would be able to talk and interact with others in an improved manner.
Role of the UAE Government in Supporting Autistic Children and Parents
Carroll (2014) notes that the UAE government understands the plight of autistic children and their parents in the country. It comprehends that parents have already suffered the massive emotional burden and need to be relieved financially. Therefore, the government treats them by establishing relevant centers where they can easily access the required treatments and therapies. Apart from this, the state has also remained one of the key stakeholders in terms of financing institutions where autistic students learn. The provision of funds to support their special needs ensures their parents are relieved of excessive costs of keeping them at school. Chaudhary (2012) reveals that the government’s funding for schools with autistic children has been instrumental in their recovery process. It has continued giving hope to many kids in the country. The government has also ensured that parents with such offspring are educated on the best ways of taking care of them while at home. The enlightenment of adults has simplified the work of teachers at schools, as autism is now diagnosed in the earlier years of an individual.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In conclusion, this research has revealed that the percentage of autistic children has been on its rise in the UAE. Carroll (2014) emphasizes that the rate of increase in autistic cases is 30%, and the number has been projected to induce because of the efficient diagnostic measures in the country. Parents are being encouraged to try to understand their children at the earlier ages. The survey conducted at the New England Center for Children has indicated that autistic kids are always likely to exhibit numerous habits. They include such as poor communication skills, an inability to paraphrase sentences, poor eating habits, and the lack of social skills. They are being resistant to any change.
It is recommended that parents note these habits earlier enough to ensure their children access treatment and therapy within the required time. The New England Center for Children survey also holds the view that autism is not necessarily genetic. It can only be possible for twins and their siblings who are 25 times more likely to be autistic. It means that parents should also continue monitoring environmental conditions and their effect on children.
It is also recommended that the government should remain on the forefront of supporting kids at the special educational centers such as the New England Center for Children to relieve parents of the excessive school fees they should pay for their offspring. It also gives hope to these kids because of the opportunity to improve their lives.
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Barrell, R. (2009). Creating a connective pedagogy for special educational needs: An investigation of the development of inclusive Practice in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Education system. British University in Dubai (BUiD) in the United Arab Emirates, 1(1), 1-18.
Carroll, L. (2014, February 20). High costs put parents off seeking treatment for austistic children. The National UAE. Retrieved from http://www.thenational.ae/uae/health/high-costs-put-parents-off-seeking-treatment-for-austistic-children
Chaudhary, S. B. (2012, May 11). The rise of autism in the UAE. Gulf News. Retrieved from http://gulfnews.com/life-style/health/the-rise-of-autism-in-the-uae-1.1020114
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Samson, A. C., Phillips, J. M., Parker, K. J., Shah, S., Gross, J. J., & Hardan, A. Y. (2013). Emotion dysregulation and the core features of autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Austism Development Disorder, 13(5), 1-7.