LAHORE: Speakers at a seminar on autism have said one in every 50 children in Pakistan can be autistic according to statistics and studies and awareness among parents about the disease is the need of the hour.

The seminar attended by parents and professionals including teachers, doctors and therapists was organised by a local NGO on Saturday.

Ms Rukhsana Shah, who heads ASDRC (Autism Spectrum Disorders Resource Centre), expressed her gratitude for a non-government foundation (MJSF) for its financial and moral support which enables the Centre to offer training to teachers and parents free of cost. She stated that it was the mission of the ASDRC to create a critical mass of trained teachers and care-givers and to create maximum awareness in the country about autism and learning disabilities.

She underscored the need for census to have correct and exact statistics about the disabled persons in the country. She also highlighted that after the 18th Amendment there was no national policy for persons with disabilities, nor was there any focal ministry to look after their affairs at the centre, while the provincial governments were completely disorganised, with multiple departments being assigned to look after their affairs in an extremely haphazard manner.

She also requested the government to set up facilities for children suffering from autism.

Dr Shazia Maqbool, Head of Developmental Paediatrics at Children’s Hospital, said her Autism Unit was designed to cater for 3,000 children in a year but now it was catering for 30,000 children annually. There was a dire need to expand the facilities of the Developmental Paeds section on an urgent basis.

Mrs Mahvash Jahangir Siddiqui, chairperson of the MJSF, stated that the Foundation was striving to improve health, education and social outcomes in Pakistan through the establishment of additional facilities in existing public and private hospitals, introducing educational and vocational colleges for persons with disabilities, empowering youth through leadership and enterprise support programmes, improving the quality of education and providing relief and rehabilitation services during natural disasters.

The recently established Autism Resource Centre in Lahore was designed to create greater awareness about autism and learning disabilities in the country, and to train parents and teachers of special and mainstream schools in the relevant fields, she said.

Dr Fauzia Saleem, speech pathologist at the CMH Lahore, gave a detailed presentation on language, speech and communication disorders, especially among children with ASD.

Ms Maliha Latif of M/s Impact Psyche Consultants gave a presentation on ADHD, while Ms Asma Ahmed, clinical psychologist at ASDRC, discussed treatment and management techniques for children with ASD.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2015

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