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.


Saudi Arabia plans to create 561,000 jobs under new digital employment initiative

Updated 24 April 2019
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Saudi Arabia plans to create 561,000 jobs under new digital employment initiative

  • Qiwa program aims to achieve the Vision 2030 goal of reducing unemployment rate to 7 percent

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has revealed ambitious plans to create more than 561,000 private-sector jobs by 2023 as part of a new digital era for the Kingdom’s labor market.

Minister of Labor and Social Development Ahmad Al-Rajhi made the announcement at the launch of the Qiwa online platform, which aims to combine all the country’s employment services under one electronic roof.

Through digitalization, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development hopes to not only boost job opportunities for Saudi men and women, but also improve workplace efficiency and productivity, and attract international investment.

Al-Rajhi said: “The ministry has entered into partnerships and agreements to settle more than 561,000 job opportunities in the private sector until 2023,” and the minister added that 45,000 Saudis had entered the labor market in the last three months.

The new labor force platform will consolidate employment-related e-services already offered to job seekers, employees and employers and plans are in the pipeline to plug a further 71 services into the system.

The Qiwa program aims to provide Saudi government officials with a data mine of statistical information to tackle business challenges facing employers and employees, help create new job opportunities, and achieve the Vision 2030 goal of reducing the country’s unemployment rate to 7 percent. Another key objective is to strategically enhance the Kingdom’s business environment to make it more attractive to local and international investors.

A ministry statement issued to Arab News, said: “The Qiwa platform will have an impact on motivating investors. It will also re-engineer policies and procedures for all services provided to individuals and enterprises on a strong platform that will make a quantum leap in the business world and turn the Saudi market into an attractive market for opportunities and potential for competencies.

“The services are provided in both Arabic and English in order to enable foreign investors to benefit from the services of a strong platform,” the statement added.

The e-services include programs to encourage Saudis to access jobs in their locality by improving the workplace environment and making it more appealing to men and women.

The Kingdom’s public sector is quickly adapting to international standards and labor market demands by digitalizing services, while the ministry is using the latest business management methods to help public organizations increase the competency and productivity of workers while creating a competitive labor market that can partner with the private sector.