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Conference on autism to target inclusive education

Training for teachers to handle students with autism

Gulf News

Dubai: With increasing numbers of UAE children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a conference in February will highlight the benefit of early therapy in helping these children enrol at mainstream schools.

The 4th Autism Around the World 2013 Conference and Exhibition was announced on January 23, 2013. It will be held from February 6-9 at Zayed University, Dubai, bringing together international certified experts in the fields of behavioural therapy and special education.

Official figures on the number of children affected by autism aren’t available. Non-profit societies like the Emirates Autism Society and the Dubai Autism Centre estimate that hundreds of children are affected. Centres in the UAE report a waitlist that runs in the hundreds as well.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, ASD affects about 1 in 88 children. The condition is characterised by impaired social interaction, and issues with verbal and nonverbal communication.

The conference will focus on raising awareness among educators and parents towards children with ASD and discuss inclusive schooling. It is organised by Child Early Intervention Medical Centre (CEIMC) in collaboration with Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) and the UAE Ministry of Health (MOH).

Early diagnosis and intervention can help children with autism integrate in regular schools, said Carolina Tovar, executive director of CEIMC, speaking to Gulf News. She said that through the correct therapy, the sensory, motor and communication needs of each child can be assessed and managed.

“Almost 50 per cent of the children [totalling 86] at the Centre are at mainstream schools. We have seen the tremendous success of how ABA [Applied Behaviour Analysis, a kind of therapy that helps promote positive behaviour] has helped them with placements at mainstream schools,” she said.

Tovar said that though more schools are adopting an inclusion policy, there is an urgent need to sensitise students and train teachers. “It isn’t enough to enrol children with autism at a regular school, we need to work towards helping them stay and learn at school. Teachers and students need to be more supportive and accepting.”

Through the conference, Tovar hopes that the teaching community will benefit.

Fatima Al Matrooshi, chairperson of the Emirates Autism Society told Gulf News that the Society hopes for a positive change in attitude on the part of educators. “Through teacher training, more students with autism can benefit.”

She added that the lack of awareness among families, schools and the community is a major issue at the moment.