Dubai: During the spring break of 2014, when six-year-old Hussain Ahmad Sultan sang the Bear Hunt song for a full seven minutes at his school’s spring festival, his mother Fatima Ahmad Al Nimr’s eyes misted up as she cheered loudly from the sidelines and his therapists from Stepping Stones Centre for Autism Spectrum Disorders, heartily applauded the performance.
For a child who refused to speak or have eye contact with anyone from the age of two years, this was a commendable achievement for both Hussain and all those who were involved with his therapy since he was diagnosed as moderately autistic at the age of three.
Three years of intense therapy for Hussain has shown miraculous results. The young boy is not only following instructions, maintaining eye contact and displaying numerical, spatial and verbal skills of children his age, he has been fully included in school in Saudi Arabia where he has returned with his family. He shook hands and went through several verbal and numerical tests to display his abilities to us.
Narrating the turn of events, his father Mohammad Ahmad Al Sultan, who actually took early retirement to focus on his son told Gulf News that Hussain was perfectly healthy at birth.
“My wife had a normal pregnancy, we are not related to each other, so the chances of any genetic conditions were next to nil, the delivery was normal and my son had all his milestones until he was one year old. He was also conversing in full sentences with a good vocabulary by the age of one year and three months,” he said.
Hussain came down with influenza when he was one and a half years old. He recovered but stopped talking or even listening, prompting his parents to get his ears checked.
He stopping maintaining eye contact with his parents and would run outdoors so much that they had to lock the doors and windows and also put a bracelet on his wrist with his name, contact address, phone numbers and other information since there was always a chance he would wander off.
“Passersby who found him on the road often told us he would wander right in front of a moving car,” his father recalled.
That was when his parents who had been reading a lot about his condition, brought him to Stepping Stones that deals with the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) at the Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) where he was diagnosed with autism and put under an intensive therapy based on the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), a teaching method that is effective in children with ASD, combined with speech and occupational therapy.
Within six months, the child began responding very well and could be sent to a regular school with a shadow teacher. By the end of two years of skilled intervention, all the symptoms the child had practically disappeared and Hussain was able to return to Saudi Arabia with his parents and now attends senior KG in a mainstream school. He continues to periodically visit Stepping Stones for assessment, but now his condition has been scaled down to no or mild autism.
Appreciating the proactive stance Hussain’s parents took, Hiba Bahsoun, director of special education and inclusion at Stepping Stones, said: “Early intervention is a key to reversal of symptoms in autism. Hussain came to us at the age of three and, after screening that involved diagnostic, behavioral, speech and language, functional and occupational tools, we were able to diagnose him with moderate autism. His parents were hands-on and within 4-5 months of 3-4 hours of intense ABA, speech and occupational therapy, the little boy started making eye contact, displayed compliance by following instructions, picked up language skills and was able to enroll in the Greenwood International school’s inclusion programme that is run by us in Dubai.”
The two-year therapy involved expenses that were quite steep, with the initial therapy at the clinic costing nearly Dh1,300 per day for five months and the inclusion programme at the school costing approximately Dh50,000 per term.
However, the perseverance of Hussain’s parents paid off and now the boy’s shadow teacher in school is in the process of being gradually phased out since the school authorities feel Hussain has adjusted to attending classes with other students and a regular teacher.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
ASD is a neurodevelopment condition that affects the verbal and social skills of the child. Some of the symptoms tha can help parents know if their child falls in this spectrum are:
1. Loss of verbal communication
2. No eye contact
3. Beginning to speak in full sentences as early as the age of one and then displaying full regression with little or no verbal skills
4. Not responding to any visual stimuli
5. Showing symptoms of Echolachia (repeating or echoing whatever the child hears)
6. Refusing to eat food
7. Walking on tiptoes
8. Displaying extreme sensitivity to temperatures (either warm or cold)
Source: Stepping Stones