Autism and Stigma in Dubai
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been gaining momentum in the social narrative nowadays, as the global community tries to unlearn and relearn previously misconstrued developmental conditions. However, those who strive to make a place in the world for those with autism are faced with a number of external challenges, mainly the age-old problem: stubborn perspectives.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental condition that poses behavioral, communicative and social obstacles for those affected. As can be gauged from this definition, there are no indicators of the disorder in physical appearance. However, according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), a guide by the American Psychiatric Association, autism can be deduced by the incapability to function according to normative expectations. It highlights symptoms for Autism Spectrum Disorder to be a “single continuum of mild to severe impairments” causing an inability to communicate according to social norms, and the induction of fixations on certain habits or interests. The disorder can be diagnosed as early as
Autism in the UAE
According to a research article by Kadim Al abbady (et al.), Autism Spectrum Disorder is “the most common of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders in Dubai.” The study shows estimates by Dubai Autism Centre concluding that autism affects 0.68% of births- 1 in 146 births. Additionally, researcher Tania Sopaul highlights that the prevalence of autism cases in the Middle East can be compared with its prevalence in the Western world. Furthermore, the Wellness Centre referenced Gulf News and Khaleej Times in an article to evaluate an approximate of 36 kids per day being diagnosed with autism in the United Arab Emirates.
Gulf news reporter Sarvy Geranpayeh writes in an article how Autism Spectrum Disorder is viewed as taboo in the society, so much so that families with autistic children face added stress due to insensitive responses towards the condition. With not enough autism centres to cope with the growing number of cases, and the patients and families being treated like spectacles in public areas, families claim the suffering only adds on. Small Steps Big Dreams in Dubai was based off of a similar experience- having received unwanted attention, and lacking that which was in wanting, CEO Shamaila Nawaz took a major step in aiding autistic children and their families. With the limited number of such facilities, it seems that organizations like Small Steps Big Dreams in Dubai are a godsend.
Jennifer Bell of Arab News discusses how autistic children are not only largely ostracized by strangers in the society, but there are parents who refuse to accept the reality of their children’s condition due to the stigma associated with it.
Small Steps Big Dreams does not only help remedy the lack of facilities for autistic children in Dubai, but is also a positive step towards the eradication of social insensitivity in Dubai. Organizations that cater to autistic children can provide insight and understanding relevant to the Autism Spectrum Disorder where there is none, and thus become awareness campaigns in their own right.
Types of Therapy
There are varying symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and consequently there are varying methods to aid those with the condition. To induce them into society in a way that they are able to carry themselves at par with non-autistic children, there are therapists who cater to the sensibilities and special requirements of children with autism.
Small Steps Big Dreams, for example, offers to major modes of therapy: ABA Therapy and Occupational Therapy.
Steinberg Behavioral Solutions herald ABA therapy as one of the most effective treatment for autism. With a personalized program for autistic children, having an in-depth understanding of external triggers and individual temperaments, ABA therapy is a method that has been tried and tested. In fact, when first established in 1987 by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, ABA therapy was concluded to have had a 90% success rate.
Small Steps Big Dreams aims to include autistic children into the rest of society, and not have them be shunned. The Positive Reinforcement method of ABA therapy thus conforms to their objectives, despite the controversy surrounding it. Speaking up against the biases against this mode of therapy, behavior analyst Tobey Lass of the Attentive Behavior Care writes about how quantitative studies on the effectiveness of the treatment and the science behind it convinced him of its significance. He points out that ABA is the only data proven and scientifically driven treatment for autism.
One of the major problems for those suffering from autism is that they are unable to process their feelings and express themselves fully. Occupational therapy remedies these cognitive and emotional challenges.
Medical researches highlight the benefits of said therapy by noting improvements in motor skills, perceptual and visual skills, and social skills and communication. Occupational therapy assesses the child’s behavioral patterns and interactive tendencies to formulate an individualized treatment program. This program is not limited to a singular form of treatment, and can encompass several types of activities to cater to the child’s needs.
In this regard, Small Steps Big Dreams offers not only a professional Occupational Therapist, but also provides an Occupational Therapist Assistant, so as to provide the child with effective care. The organization seems to employ methods of treatment that have been scientifically supported, not leaving anything on chance. Perhaps opting for proven modes of treatment offer parents of autistic children relief, due to which one can find reviews online commending the programs and facilities.
Ending the Stigma
Jennifer Bell claims in her article that, although the social situation seems to be gradually improving, there is still a lot of indifference towards the challenges of autism that need to be dealt with. While Dubai still has a long way to go in accepting autistic children as equal members of the society, it appears a good sign that there is a gradual change occurring in the Middle East. Being the 2020 finalist of the GESS Education Awards, Small Steps Big Dreams has garnered a lot of positive attention worldwide. It has a big online presence, and may be one of the pioneering steps in removing the stigma against autism in Dubai. After all, they term themselves an “Inclusion Centre” and not merely a “Treatment Centre,” implying that the children are not cases but valued individuals.