Riyadh autism forum provides support to struggling families

Panelists discuss issues related to autism during the event in Riyadh. (AN photo by Hala Tashkandi)
Updated 14 April 2019
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Riyadh autism forum provides support to struggling families

  • 10 panelists took part in a detailed discussion during the forum
  • Private consultations were also on offer for members of the audience

RIYADH:  “I can learn. I can work. I have feelings. I’m normal, just like you,” said 23-year-old Hattan to the audience at the Forum for Autism Consultants in Riyadh on Sunday. 

Hattan, who taught himself English through watching movies and playing video games, told the people assembled before him he had recently returned from a student exchange program in the US where he lived almost independently — an advert for the changing attitude toward learning disabilities in the Kingdom and across the world, and what can be achieved by autism sufferers with the right guidance and support.

Organized by the King Salman Center for Disability Research (KSCDR) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Center for Autism Research, the Forum for Autism Consultants serves as a platform for experts to offer insight into the treatment and development of children with autism.

Titled “Ask and We Shall Answer,” the free public event was made available to any parent or family member of a child with autism, to people interested in the field, and even to casual observers looking to learn more about the condition.

Autistic children in Saudi Arabia have long faced difficulties in finding support, care and guidance, but that is now changing, as Hattan’s case proves.

10 panelists, from child psychologists to neurosurgeons and speech therapists to teachers took part in a lengthy discussion at the forum, and private consultations were also on offer afterwards for members of the audience.

The panel included Dr. Ebitssam Murshid, a consultant pediatric dentist and founder of Saudi Arabia’s first special needs dental clinic, pediatric neurologist Dr. Hisham Dhalaan, and KSCDR CEO Dr. Ola Abu Sukkar.

Among the topics discussed were the lack of resources available for children and their families, the issues families faced getting access to treatment, and the lack of assistance available to adults with autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are still a mystery to most Saudis. Despite a growing number of studies on the topic, concrete numbers and statistics about the prevalence of autism in the Kingdom are hard to find.

A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Academic Scientific Research by three students at King Saud University College of Medicine found that general knowledge of autism was poor, despite the fact that the majority of those studied knew about the existence of the disorder.

“In Saudi Arabia, underdeveloped children’s psychiatric services hide the extent of ASDs in the country,” the study said.

It is hoped that by providing more free public forums such as these, the little knowledge currently held by most citizens can grow into a more aware, understanding society.


Finance officials meet to map out Saudi Arabia’s budget plans

Updated 19 April 2019
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Finance officials meet to map out Saudi Arabia’s budget plans

  • Finance representatives of 150 government bodies meet for the Budget Forum 2020

RIYADH: Saudi finance chiefs have kicked off a major conference in the capital aimed at mapping out the Kingdom’s budget requirements.
Around 300 specialists representing 150 government bodies met at the InterContinental hotel in Riyadh for the Budget Forum 2020.
Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan welcomed delegates to the second edition of the gathering organized by the Saudi Finance Ministry under the slogan “Partnership and Empowerment.”
Al-Jadaan said the ministry was focused on “partnership and commitment,” and sought to share the challenge of developing an effective budget to achieve the Kingdom’s ambitious goals.
“We are also committed to empowering financial leaderships to learn about the ministry’s programs and projects and provide training and qualification opportunities to the best international standards,” he added.
The finance chief said the budget planning process required the collaboration of multiple authorities and a clear strategy based on transparency. 
Items up for discussion at the forum included financial planning in governmental bodies, automation, and the promotion of revenues and efficient spending.
Finance Ministry steering committee chairman, Abdul Aziz bin Saleh Al-Freih, stressed the importance of the forum in getting the ball rolling at an early stage on formulating a general state budget.
Workshops were held on the sidelines of the conference focused on empowering government organizations, and a training program on financial planning and income estimations was also staged.