ABU DHABI // Children as young as a year old are being examined for autism as parents become more aware of the symptoms.
The age of children being brought to the New England Centre for Children, which specialises in individualised treatment for youngsters with autism, has fallen in the eight years it has been operating in the capital while the number of admissions has grown.
“This suggests that more children are being recognised as having a difference at a younger age, which could indicate that there is greater awareness,” said Dr Daniel Gould, chief clinical officer at the centre.
“If a parent has any concerns about their child’s development they should seek assessment. It might be a sign of autism or it might be a sign of another problem. Regardless of the final diagnosis, if the child has a developmental problem it is almost always better to get treatment from an early age,” said Dr Gould.
In 2007-2008, the average age of children at the centre was 5.4 years. In 2015-2016, that dropped to 4.5 years, with 16 per cent of applicants aged between birth and three years compared to only 8 per cent in 2007-2008.
In 2007-2008, 67 per cent of children were under six years, while in 2015-2016 that figure was 83 per cent.
There are currently 166 children enrolled at the centre, with 200 having received treatment since it opened its doors.
Although autism spectrum disorder can be diagnosed in children as young as two, most are not found to have the condition until they are older than four, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.
Amal Sabry, managing director at the Emirates Autism Centre, said there has been an improvement in the public’s understanding of autism.
Rather than waiting until their children are older, parents are opting to seek help much sooner said Nipa Bhuptani, founder of Autism Support Network in UAE.
“I am being approached by parents of children who are around the age of two. Before, they would come only around the age of four and over, when the school would complain,” said Ms Bhuptani, adding that she believed the next step should be towards acceptance.
“The awareness has been created and acceptance is the next effective goal as this will lead to better support,” she said.
“The community needs to experience autism more closely. They need to see, meet and interact with people who have autism as well as their families.”
Integrating children who have autism with those who do not is something the Emirates Autism Centre (EAC) works towards.
The Mall at World Trade Centre Abu Dhabi will be celebrating Autism Awareness Week until Monday, in collaboration with the EAC, with free consultation.
Pupils from Al Dhabiania Private School sang to encourage their peers who have autism, while children from the EAC explained their artwork to visitors.
“The point is to include them, not alienate them, because that’s the only way they go forward,” said Eftetan Farrag, president of the Egyptian Ladies Association, who supported the initiative.
“The progress you see in the children comes from being included in society.”
Source: uae news