Muscat: The government must set up an annual fund to create specialised centres for autistic children to ease the suffering of care givers, parents have urged.
Only a handful and severely underfunded private centres are catering to those with disabilities but the task is too huge for them. Parents say the government can afford to establish nationwide centres that would embrace a strategy for comprehensive care as well as education to all people with autism.
"The autism centres in Oman are run by charities that rely on funds from the private sector. They neither have the facilities nor the expertise to cater to the growing demand of people with autism.
The government must create a special budget for autism, to look after them from cradle to grave to make sure they have access to a lifelong support system," said Suleiman Al Falahi, whose teenage son is an autistic patient.
A Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) research shows that cases of autism in Oman have been increasing each year, from just two cases per 1,000 children in 2008 to the current estimate of ten per 1,000.
There are over 3,500 autistic patients recorded in the Sultanate but the true figure may be well above that since some parents do not register their children with the hospitals.
Parents demand annual budget for autism care
A recent Sultan Qaboos University study said that among every nine autistic children, only one receives treatment.
Other parents said they need assistance in developing an educational and treatment programme to allow autistic children and teenagers to reach their maximum potential.
"Every child and adult with this condition must have access to services and support that provide best possible degree of independence to secure the best quality of life. The government has an annual budget for everything but not for dealing with autism. It must be part of the national plan that covers all aspects of autism care from cash given to the caregiver to rehabilitation," Shaikha Al Farsi, a mother of a three year old autistic child, said.
A spokesman of the Diwan Royal Protocol said that His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has approved a grant to carry out a study to eventually establish a regular special service to cater to the needs of people with autism.
"Help is on the way and the study will cover every aspect of the needs of autistic people of all ages. It will include specialised training for teachers, education, rehabilitation and sports facilities," the Diwan's spokesman told the Times of Oman.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support.
Some autistic children are born with special gifts, like the four year old boy in Suwaiq, Mundher Al Balushi, who is a self-taught child, learning by watching television to write English alphabets.
"He was rejected by a mainstream school here because of his condition. But Mundher, who started writing on the sand, now uses a pen to write simple words in English on a piece of paper," his mother Khadija Al Balushi said.
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