Speakers highlight lack of awareness about autism in Pakistan


KARACHI: Speakers at a seminar on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on Thursday said that there was not much awareness about autism in Pakistan.

“It is the third most common developmental disorder in the world. However, incidence rates for Autism in Pakistan are still not available, as we still consider only four disabilities by law i.e. physical, hearing, visual impairment and intellectual disability. However, there are more than seventeen recognised disabilities in most of the developed countries,” said Autism Spectrum Disorder Welfare Trust (ASDWT) Chairperson Rukhsana Shah, while addressing the seminar orgainsed by the Trust at IBA Karachi in collaboration with Mahvash & Jahangir Siddiqui (MSJ) Foundation.

Zulfiqar Shallwani, the secretary for Special Education in Sindh was the chief guest at the seminar attended by a large number of teachers of special and mainstream schools, doctors, parents, professionals and prominent members of the civil society.

Rukhsana Shah, who is also the mother of an autistic child, said that even in the current census, there were no specific columns to report the children suffering from autism. “There is a dire need to find prevalence rate of Autism to prevent it in future,” she added.

She also spoke about the lack of awareness about autism and learning disabilities among doctors, teachers and parents all over Pakistan. However, she lauded the role of the Mahvash & Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation who sponsored the setting up of the ASDWT in Lahore in 2015, as well as funded the Karachi centre which opened October this year

In her inaugural speech, noted philanthropist Mahvash Jahangir Siddiqui gave a brief background of the work done by the MJS Foundation all over Pakistan.

Dr Zulfiqar Shallwani enumerated the efforts of the government of Sindh in the field not only of autism, but all disabilities in general. He said that in April, the first Autism Centre was set up in Karachi at the existing Special Education Centre in Gulistan-e- Johar, while a separate state of the art building was being constructed on the site. “A school for children suffering from learning difficulties is also being set up at the Korangi Centre of Special Education, while a similar facility is under consideration at Thatta. He added that in Nawabshah, the government was setting up a centre for Down’s syndrome and neuro-developmental disorders in which medical colleges and DHQ hospitals would be involved to ensure sustainability and growth of the centre.

The keynote address on autism was delivered by Dr Irum Rizwan, a pioneer in the field of Autism in Karachi, who also runs the Autism center at Dow University of Health Sciences. This was followed by a presentation on ADHD by Dr Salma Khalil.

Asma Ahmed, a senior clinical psychologist, gave a detailed presentation on the overview of management for persons with ASD. She said that ASD children are super smart and have extra ordinary talents. “It is our responsibility to unlock their potential and polish their talents areas,” she concluded.

Later, Sanam Hafeez, an educator, shed light on learning difficulties and shared her experiences.


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