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

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 airports welcome back passengers after two-month hiatus

Updated 29 min 17 sec ago

Saudi airports welcome back passengers after two-month hiatus

  • Social distancing and face masks required in aircraft
  • Two local flights to be added daily to restore capacity 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is welcoming the return of aircraft and passengers amid strict precautionary measures to counter the spread of coronavirus.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) on Sunday opened 11 of the Kingdom’s 28 airports in a step toward restoring normality to everyday activities.
All flights and means of travel between Saudi cities ground to a halt on March 21.
“The progressive and gradual reopening aims at controlling the crowd inside airports because we want to achieve the highest health efficiency,” GACA spokesman Ibrahim bin Abdullah Alrwosa told Arab News.
He said that two local flights would be added daily until all routes returned to their normal capacity, during which time GACA would increase the capacity of aircrafts as decided by relevant committees. 
GACA has issued a travel guide for passengers, detailing what steps have been taken by authorities to ensure public health and safety and what obligations are on passengers. 
A decision about the return of international flights was up to authorities, he said. 
“I call on all travelers, both Saudis and residents, to read this guide and to look at the information and details in it because the travel decision depends on it,” the spokesman added.
Passengers found to violate any of the terms and conditions will not be allowed to complete the check-in process as per the new travel procedures.
The new terms include the use of e-tickets and passengers will not be allowed to enter airport premises without one. Purchasing tickets inside airport grounds is currently not an option because booking services for airline sales are currently closed.
Wearing a face mask is a prerequisite for airport access and any individual who fails to wear a face mask will be denied entry to the airport.
Passengers under the age of 15 will not be allowed to travel unaccompanied.
The Ministry of Health has set up temperature checkpoints inside the airport and passengers recording a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher will be denied entry in order to ensure their safety and the safety of other passengers.
Social distancing inside the airport has been adopted at entrances, exits, at seating areas and bridges leading to airplanes.
There will be social distancing on the aircraft, with an empty seat between each passenger, according to recommendations from the Ministry of Health, which stipulated that there must be social distancing.
“We want to make airports a safe environment to achieve a safe flight. There is another important issue, which is a well-known social tradition. There are many people at the airport who come to say goodbye to their loved ones or receive them. We will not allow the presence of people who do not have tickets in the airports, in order to ensure the safety of passengers,” said the GACA spokesman.
He said that passenger cooperation and compliance played a key role in the successful restart of flights.
“We rely on citizens and passengers, locals and residents alike, to help us implement preventive measures and to comply with the health rules recommended by the Ministry of Health.”