Dubai, UAE: On Saturday, people around the world marked World Autism Awareness Day by wearing blue and celebrating the lives of people like Dubai-based, Ahmed Hegazy.
Diagnosed with the condition as a young boy, 13-year-old Dubai Autism Centre student Hegazy doesn’t quite know the significance of this observance day, but his 10-year-old sister does.
“Sarah told me she wanted to do something for World Autism Awareness Day. The idea came from a project at school called ‘How to make a difference’. So she started to make a presentation about Autism through cards and bookmarks. Each gives a piece of info about autism,” Ahmed’s mother, Eman Younis told Khaleej Times.
Keen to make a noise about her big brother’s condition and educate people on what exactly autism is, Sarah plans to distribute the cards and bookmarks to people in her building and at school throughout April – the month of Autism.
“She is only 10 years old but she has grown up with a brother with autism, so she knows what it is. She even involves her little sister Judy in the awareness work she does. She wants her to understand her brother like she does.”
On April 2, every year for the past eight years, people around the world have been donning blue clothes, banners and balloons in honour of the millions of individuals and families affected by autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) consist of a range of conditions characterised by some degree of impaired social behaviour, communication and language, and a narrow range of interests and activities that are both unique to the individual and carried out repetitively. Noted as quite a mysterious condition, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about one in 160 children has an ASD – that accounts for about 1 per cent of the world’s population.
With April is also noted as Autism Awareness Month, Eman said when you’re living with a child with autism, every month is Autism month.
“We are constantly raising awareness about Ahmed’s condition. We are not ashamed of it, he is his own unique person. Yes, it is tough but creating constant awareness every day is key to understanding the condition.”
And Eman said it is not just the individual that is affected by autism, the family is too.
“If you lock them away and push it to the back of your mind, it is bad for your well-being and your child’s well-being. That is why I am so proud to see my daughters spread awareness.”
On Saturday, the Hegazy’s spent a family day out in Abu Dhabi because there “wasn’t a whole lot going on in Dubai” for Autism Awareness Day.
“Before they used to light up the buildings in blue but I didn’t hear much this year. Maybe because the whole month is dedicated to autism awareness we will see more activities develop throughout the month. At least I hope so.”
She said though awareness is being stepped up in the UAE, more still needs to be done as “little steps make big changes”.
In October, Ahmed became one of the first children in the UAE to use the BabNoor Arabic cloud-based application for children with autism.
First rolled out at the Dubai Autism Centre, BabNoor is now the only learning app for children with disabilities which communicates solely in Arabic.
Using a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) – a form of augmentative and alternative communication – the app uses easily identifiable icons to allow the child to communicate a sentence.
And Eman said it has brought on a lot of “positive changes” in just a short few months.
“These are the sorts of innovations we need to keep seeing. Such a simple application has made life easier for Ahmed because he can now tell me what he wants, and in turn that makes my life easier.”
For parents struggling to accept their child’s condition, Eman said denial can be very damaging. “You have to go out and not hide your child. Learn what autism is about and use observance day’s and months like this (World Autism Awareness Day/Month) to speak to other people going through it.”
And though she said Ahmed may be “different”, it is vital he gets the respect he deserves.
“You have to empower your child and you can do that by seeking support. Always remember you are not alone.”
On Saturday, Dubai Autism Centre launched its annual month-long campaign to increase public awareness and promote a better understanding of autism. The campaign will include various events and visits to schools, universities, and public and private companies.
© Khaleej TimesApr 2016