Egypt ‘lights it up blue’ for 7th annual World Autism Day
Tahrir Square - YOUM7 (Archive)
By SARAH MOURAD

CAIRO: Tahrir Square and the Cairo Citadel will be lit up in blue April 2 in observance of World Autism Day, to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder and encourage local fundraising events.

The international campaign, “Light it Up in Blue,” will mark the start of a month of events, said Dahlia Soliman, the president of the Egyptian Autistic Society, and head of special needs department at the Counseling Unit for Psychological Development.

According to Soliman, 1 in every 50 children born is autistic, meaning that over 1 million cases are currently in Egypt.

“On a daily basis, we serve around 40 different cases, in addition to the cases that we handle outside Egyptian Autistic Society, in schools for instance. And around 400-500 children between new cases and follow-ups are treated yearly” Soliman explained, adding that the ratio of student to teacher is 1:1.

The society will host an Easter event for families in the Maadi neighborhood of Cairo on April 17, and will feature singing, art, and sculpture to demonstrate the talents of children with autism, Soliman said.

Cairo Runners will also hold a yet-to be scheduled marathon for autism awareness, added Soliman, who said that Harley Davidson will also hold a “Harley Ride for Autism” next week.

A number of schools are participating as well; Soliman said students and staff in schools like El Alsson, British International (BISC), Small Talk, and The American University in Cairo (AUC) will wear blue on April 2, and set up blue lights. The society will also give talks in those schools about autism for children to gain more awareness, she said.

Soliman added that the Dostour Party is assisting them with fundraising this year, and is helping them establish autism centers in every governorate.

According to the official website of “Autism Speaks” organization, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are umbrella terms used to describe a number of complex disorders of brain development, which can include varying degrees of difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

The Egyptian Autistic Society has been active since 1999 providing services for autistic children and their families. “Initially we only gave sessions about autism, but without any kind of therapy. Afterwards we formed something like a school in its own right. Then we managed to integrate our program in other normal schools,” Soliman explained.

For the past few years, it has also co-operated with the Ministry of Health to give training for doctors. “We opened three classes at the Abassiya Mental Hospital, to be associated with prototypes in other places in Egypt,” Soliman said, adding that currently they are working on setting up a national curriculum for autism in the country. “It has already been written, the patent is currently being issued,” she added.

After training those doctors in Abbasiya Mental Hospital, Soliman explained that more classes will be opened in Alexandria too.

“By the end of April, an autism center in Alexandria will open in Maamoura hospital,” Persis Youssef, manager of autism center in Abbasiya mental hospital’s child clinic, told The Cairo Post.

Hend Adel, a child psychiatrist at Abbasiya mental hospital told The Cairo Post that the child clinic in the hospital opened a day care center for autistic children in April 2013, and that is the only such governmental facility in Egypt.

She said there remains much work to be done in the autism center because it requires regular one-on-one doctor-patient treatment, “and the number of psychiatrists available, specifically child psychiatrists, are not many in Egypt.”

“We are currently working in Abbasiya’s clinic with eight children, around 15 hours a week. Every Sunday we are open to welcome new cases, but unfortunately due to the limited space and capacity of the clinic, we can’t take more children” Youssef explained.

“We teach parents as well how to communicate with their children, provide them with whatever medication their children might need, and due to the limited space issue, we recommend private centers for autism to them,” she added.

Youssef also said that next week a major meeting will be held, organized by the Ministry of Health, with major child psychiatrists and autism specialists, in addition to the Secretary-General of Mental Health in the Ministry of Health, precisely to discuss autism.

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