To mark World Autism Month 2017, the NDU Faculty of Nursing and Health Sciences (FNHS), the Department of Psychology, Education and Physical Education, and the Department of Community Service and Awareness (CSA), in collaboration with the Autism Awareness Association (AAA), Lebanon, held on April 20, in Abou Khater Auditorium, NDU main campus, in the presence of guest of honor Wissam Breidy, a public panel presentation titled, “Autism: Toward Better Understanding, Acceptance and Care.”
Majed Bou Hadir, NDU Community Service Officer, SAO, moderated the event. The overall goal was to raise awareness about autism among the general public, and to promote acceptance, care, and inclusion of individuals living with autism as well as the support of their families.
Dr. Mohamad Itani, a pediatrician and founding member of the Lebanese Autism Society, talked about autism from a medical perspective. Autism is a heterogeneous developmental disorder associated with problems in social interaction and communication, stereotyped behaviors, and limited fields of interest, of the growing child. Both genetics and environmental factors play a role in the sensory, cognitive, and motor development of the child. Diagnostic criteria were amended over time and currently confirm to DMS-V. Current prevalence rate is 1 in 68. High-risk groups are siblings of affected individuals and males. Appropriate interventions are determined by severity level of social communication impairments and restricted repetitive patterns of behavior. Early diagnosis and development of individualized educational, behavioral, social skills plan as well as monitoring and adjustment of the plan based on child progress with potential integration of high-functioning children into regular classes is crucial for better prognosis.
Edith Kouba el-Hreich, speech therapist and coordinator of the ASD committee, Lebanese Association of Speech and Language Therapists, noted the neurological basis of speech and language inadequacies and existence of a wide spectrum of communication problems, and highlighted the importance of early diagnosis and individual-tailored pertinent interventions, as well as availability of skilled professionals.
Ghada Hayek Makhoul, president of the AAA in Lebanon and mother of a young 18-year-old boy with autism, started Light It Up Blue Campaign in Lebanon. Parents of autistic individuals founded the AAA, which aims at providing information, referrals to therapeutic services, and other kinds of support for families of affected individuals. She highlighted the high economic burden of autism. AAA members look forward to establish a comprehensive center for autism. Understanding and acceptance are crucial for the enhancement of the quality of life of autistic individuals.
Finally, Bou Hadir affirmed that we are moving forward as a community toward better identification, better intervention, and better quality of life.