(Photo: Children with autism benefit from the Early Intervention Program at the Child Development Center)
By Aney Mathew
“This is autism – no known cause, no known cure.” The words come down like a hope-shattering invisible gavel, while an overwhelming sentence is pronounced. Autism is a diagnosis no parent wants to hear, but is a reality which couples face, as 1 in 68 children are affected by autism today.
Autism is a very complex neuro-psychiatric condition, and over the last decade there has been a dramatic increase in the number of diagnosed cases worldwide. Naturally, watching a child being swept away into the world of autism is devastating for any parent. However, all hope is not lost.
The good news is, while every person living with autism is different and there is no single perspective, it is possible that children with autism can go on to lead fully productive lives – given the right environment.
Early intervention is a key to success, and has proven to be very effective in helping children with autism. As Qatar observes World Autism Awareness Day, ILQ spoke to Kamila Janik, Clinical Program Lead at the Doha-based, Child Development Center, to gain insight into one of the most effective therapies available to help children with autism.
The Center, founded by Hasna Nada, the mother of a young boy with autism, specifically caters to children with special needs. It helps these children develop their full potential through quality programs and a heart of compassion. The Center is also a proud advocate of support groups for parents and families.
“There exist several forms of intervention for children with autism, including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), speech therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration, alternative diets, and medication. Typically, parents use more than one type of treatment at any given time”, explains Kamila, who is also a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst.
“Besides these clinically proven methods, there are those therapies for autism which have not been validated by research and are not recommended; they may even be harmful. So it’s imperative that parental treatment choices are driven by scientific evidence. Only safe and effective therapies recommended for children with autism must be used,” cautions Kamila.
(Photo: Kamila Janik, Clinical Program Lead, Child Development Center)
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
According to Kamila, ABA therapy is one of the most effective, safe, and evidence-based treatments for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as it can help address difficulties with communication, social interactions, and restricted patterns of behaviour, which are core symptoms. It’s effectiveness in helping these children in achieving their potential and improving their quality of life, is supported by research.
ABA therapy has resulted in improved outcomes in the area of language and communication, social skills, adaptive functioning, cognitive and academic skills, functional living skills, and reduction of problem behaviours.
While, ABA therapy is conducted by a certified therapist who works directly with the child, it must be noted the therapy can be conducted at a centre, school, or at home. As a matter of fact, parental involvement is often associated with better outcomes. Hence ABA therapy places a lot of emphasis on parent training.
ABA - Myths and Facts
Despite its tremendous potential, there are a few misgivings associated with ABA. “One of the most common myths associated with ABA therapy is that it’s only effective for people with autism. Fact is anyone who displays behavioural problems can benefit from ABA,” states Kamila. “Outside the autism spectrum, ABA therapy has been effectively used with children having other developmental disabilities such as global developmental delay, intellectual disability, Down syndrome, and language disorder. Even, neurotypical children having difficulties with communicating, or learning and acquiring new skills can benefit.”
“ABA therapy is sometimes misunderstood as a curriculum or a specific type of program. It is in fact a highly individualized therapy that is programmed based on the child’s individual needs and strengths. It’s also important to know ABA therapy has been used since 1960s in the U.S. and is very well-established; it’s not some new fad”, points out Kamila.
Every individual is different. Some children have difficulties acquiring skills from their natural environment, and therefore require a more structured teaching approach to help them acquire functional, communication, and social skills. This is where ABA therapy comes in – it becomes a cord of hope to these individuals and their families.
Have you, or someone you know, been affected by autism? Let us know about your experiences with autism support in Qatar in the comments below and don’t forget to give us a like and a share.
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