Written By: Zaid al-Alaya’a
Article Date: May 27, 2008 - 12:58:44 AM
Yemen Autism Organization was founded in 2005 and now has more than fifty autistic children divided into classes according to stages of autism. The organization started as a center run by two mothers of autistic children, Souad al-Eryani and Ahlam al-Arashi.
“The problem in Yemen is that many families refuse to accept that they have an autistic child. I once saw a big family that had an autistic child, whom they kept in a cage like an animal. People have to realize that autistic children are not retarded and early intervention can really help in treatment,” said Ahlam al-Arashi. She said that the center lacks funding and that people have to raise awareness on this kind of disorder.
The center turned into a formal establishment in the last quarter of 2007, when it was registered as Yemen Autism Organization. The only one in Yemen that caters for autistic children.
Autism is a neurological disorder about which medical knowledge is minimal. It affects children irrespective of race or quality of life. 4 out of 5 sufferers are boys. “According to a survey conducted by an international organization using international standards, we have over 130,000 autistic children in Yemen,” said Hussein M. Najee, Managing Director and Member of the Board of Trustees at the Yemen Autism Organization. In order to help autistic children, parents should understand that early intervention and awareness is the best way of ensuring the child lives a reasonably normal life. Some Middle Eastern countries reached a 70 percent success rate in treating children and that many now live a normal life.
“The main difficulty is that we don’t have the trained staff and we started with Mrs. Eryanis training – she is specialized in autism and disabled children and she sent a few girls to short overseas trainings. We are working with Dano of Denmark to sponsor 2 trainers to be in-house professionals,” said Naji.
American ambassador to Yemen with autistic children during his visit to the Autistic Centre.
Naji said that the center would like to use the Yemen Autism Organization as a training center and reach-out for the provinces, bringing teachers from the provinces to train them in their own premises.
“We have different classes according to the stages of autism, the most important thing we focus on is to help them use eye contact and develop their basic needs in everyday life,” said Basma al-Arhabi, the organization’s speech therapist.
The organization is heavily supported by volunteers: Dahman Dahman Auditors are the honorary auditors and the ones installing an accounting software for the organization. Additionally it receives support from Ms Shuga Aldein of SDF and Mr Hamdani of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The history of autism goes as far back as 1911 with Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist who first coined the term. In 1943 Dr. Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital introduced the label ‘early infantile autism’ into the English language. At the same time a German scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, described a milder form of the disorder that became known as Asperger syndrome. These two disorders were described as two of the five pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), more often referred to today as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). All these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting on development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Autism is much more common than most people think with a prevalence ranging from 2 - 10 / 1000 individuals. At present, there is no cure for autism. However, there is a range of interventional methods for enabling learning and development, which can help both the autistics and their families. Estimates on autism in Yemen range from 40,000 to 133.000; respectively from 1 in 500 to 1 in 166 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention: February 2, 2007).
Feeling there is lack of care and services for autistic children in Yemen, Mrs Suad al-Iryani founded the Yemen Foundation for Special Education and Autism in 2005 and set up Sahar Autism Center in the name of her autistic daughter. In October 2007, under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Welfare, the name was changed to Yemen Autism Organization to reflect its ambitious mission for autism all over Yemen
A five year plan (2008 - 2012) was prepared by the managing director to highlight the vision and mission of YAO, to describe its aims at various stages and to list the activities to achieve these aims. These activities are focused around training, raising awareness, external relations and fund raising, and geographical expansion. The achievements will be monitored, evaluated and reported periodically. The plan also includes elements of acquiring new premises, procurement of needed assets, staff payroll, operational cost, external relations and fund-raising.
Dr. Maria Antonio who has over 11 years of experience working with autistic children is in Yemen with her spouse who is diplomat at the Italian Embassy. Interested health professionals are encouraged to contact the organization, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
. The website will soon be operational also.
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