Diagnosing and Treating Autism
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a daunting diagnosis that can bring with it fears of an uncertain future. Timely diagnosis and adequate support for children with autism and their families is essential for the best treatment outcomes.
Early diagnosis is vital: it is the first step in understanding a child’s strengths and the areas in need of improvement. The more information parents have, the better equipped they will be to make the best decisions. Parents should get help as soon as they suspect there is something wrong and not wait to see if the child outgrows any problems. Learning as much as possible about Autism Spectrum Disorder helps parents become experts on their child and the most appropriate treatment options. 
Treatment Starts with Acceptance
Acceptance is key. Parents who learn their child’s common stress triggers can also find the best ways to support them and keep them calm. Troubleshooting problems and preventing difficult situations by continuously experimenting and looking for new approaches is key. Being aware of a child’s unique sensory needs reveals trigger-points for disruptive behavior that might easily be prevented. Celebrating successes and growth really supports children with autism and their families. Developing an individual treatment plan with experts and physicians will support a child’s rapid growth, and many challenges can be overcome.
A Good Autism Treatment Plan Will:
- Focus on early intervention and heavily involve the parents.
- Build on the child’s interests — actively engaging attention by mixing structured activities and play.
- Offer a predictable schedule and be consistent across different environments and caregivers.
- Teach tasks in a series of simple, achievable goals that are concrete and measurable.
- Reward positive behavior with things that appeal to the child’s preferences and special interests.
- Address the physical and emotional needs of everyone in the family.
- Include different forms of therapy: speech-language, play-based therapy, behavior therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
The interdisciplinary assessment of ASD needs to be comprehensive and include input from parents, school, pediatrician and observation of the child. The treatment plan revolves around the needs and strengths of the child and the family. The successful interventions are child and family centered and usually include speech therapy, occupational therapy, appropriate educational programs, behavioral interventions, and parents and caregivers education and support.
Children who are unable to talk or dislike doing so should be encouraged with nonverbal ways to connect. Facial expressions, body language and touch are all different ways to communicate. Parents and caregivers may need to learn the language in which the child is communicating using sounds and expressions.
Creating consistent rules and routines will reinforce learning — these need to be applied across different settings. Parents should find out what other members of their child-care team are doing, including teachers, therapists or extended family members. Healthcare, education and social services all contribute to supporting a child’s success. [2,3]
Individuals with autism prefer predictability and routine. Forcing them to accept change or behave exactly like other people can inhibit their development and parents can wrongly misinterpret certain behaviors as disobedience, creating social stigma that bad parenting is at fault. Raising public awareness is key to supporting these unique individuals and their families.
Safe Space and Self Care
Parents are advised to make room for the child’s requirements by creating a safe place in the home where they can be themselves. Having set boundaries helps children with autism feel safe, secure and accepted. Studies have shown that, without adequate support, the health of caregivers can suffer and this greatly impacts the whole family. 
Support and Treatment in Qatar
There are recently exciting advances happening in this area in Qatar. The National Autism Working Group was created last year under the auspices of Ministry of Public Health. This group has stakeholders from around the country including child psychiatrists, developmental paediatricians, speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, schools, administrators and, most importantly, family members.
Dr. Muhammad Waqar Azeem, MD, DFAACAP, DFAPA
This group is charged with creating a National Autism Plan which is based on six pillars: awareness, screening, diagnosis, interventions, school services and transition to adult hood. We are privileged to have the World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating with this group in finalizing the plan.
The 3rd World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) Conference will be held in November of this year in Doha. WISH’s Autism Forum is extremely important in advancing some of the most pressing issues regarding autism. The major goal of the Forum is to identify the service gaps for children and families locally and globally, and suggest solutions to different issues at national and international level. Autism experts from five continents will participate along with the WISH Team.
Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) is currently undertaking the first autism prevalence study in Qatar. This exciting study will pave the way in identifying the services needs in the country.
A number of schools and centers in the public and private sector are playing an important role in serving children with autism. Like the Shafallah Center and the Child Development Center. Qatar Foundation (QF) is planning to open state of the art schools this year for children with autism, which will serve a major need in this area in the country.
All these initiatives are steps in the right direction. It is extremely important that development of future services should be child and family centred, keeping in mind children and families are heart and soul of successful programs.
Dr. Muhammad Waqar Azeem, MD, DFAACAP, DFAPA
Past, Present and Future of Autism
It is more than possible that there has always been a spectrum when it comes to brain development. High functioning individuals have continued to play key roles throughout history and industry, using the persistence, determination, curiosity and intense focus that are often seen as gifts that come directly from their condition.
Each individual with autism has their own unique challenges and strengths. A significant number of people under the Autism Spectrum have high IQs and specific talents. Creative talents including art or music and genius like skills in mathematics, computing and chess have been seen in individuals with autism whose abilities and skills can dramatically exceed the rest of the population. The corporate world is starting to take notice, and companies are seeking out people on the spectrum for their expertise and ability to focus on certain kinds of tasks, for example those requiring meticulous precision.  This echoes the message of the growing neuro-diversity movement who celebrate the huge diversity of human skills and abilities, including adults who do not wish to be “cured” of their neurological condition.
The vast differences throughout the spectrum and the improvement in diagnosis methods coupled with how little is really known or understood, amplifies the challenges autism represents to the medical community and society as a whole.References