Muscat: Autism, a brain disorder, cannot be cured, but there is hope for such children, a child psychiatrist said.
"Autism cannot be cured, but the affected children are capable of learning and developing if proper support and assistance is provided. The whole process will require much more efforts on the part of the parents. If early measures are taken, it is possible for such a child to even become more or less independent," Prof Eric Fombonne, a French psychiatrist from the University of McGill, Canada, stated while leading a symposium titled 'Promotion of social, clinical, and research service for children with autism in Oman'.
According to the expert, a child is diagnosed with autism if he or she demonstrates symptoms such as problems with communicating, difficulties with interaction, interests that are somehow restricted or deficient, and a tendency towards repetitive behaviour.
"Even though there is no cure for autism, there are many pseudo treatments available around the world. Parents waste their time and money by pinning their hopes on these treatments and end up in an irreversible situation. Many parents of children suffering from autism suspect that something may be wrong with their child by the age of 18 months and generally seek medical help when the child is two years old. Without proper guidance, these parents and some medics worsen the condition of the autistic child," the Professor added.
The symposium was conducted at Sultan Qaboos University, under the patronage of Her Highness Sayida Dr Mona Fahad Al Said. Senior officials from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Social Development attended the symposium and actively participated in the question-answer session at the end of the symposium.
Assistant Dean for Training and Community Service Dr Yahya Mohamed Al Farsi cited a study which had estimated the prevalence of diagnosed cases of autism at 1.4 cases per 10,000 children below the age of 15 years. This estimate would translate to one diagnosis of autism per 5,000 children below the age of 15 years.
"Autism is more prevalent among boys and low-income families, who suffer more. We have come across many cases of autism among low-income families. Raising an autistic child puts a huge hole in their pocket," Al Farsi added.
"In 2008, the number of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) cases, according to the Autistic Research Group, was 139. In 2013, the number of cases is 475," he added.
According to the data, Muscat tops the list with 159 cases, and Wusta lies at the bottom with zero cases. Next to Muscat on the chart is Batinah, with 100 cases.
"Support from the society for autistic children and their parents is the need of the hour," Al Farsi suggested.