An estimated 345,600 people out of the 172.8 million in Pakistan fall somewhere on the Autism Spectrum Disorders, according to Actionautism.org.
They claim that this too is a minimum estimate, as the country has only recently been made aware of the disorder. Autistic Pakistanis are still suffering from under-reporting, misdiagnosis and social stigma — in reality the number is much higher.
In a bid to promote ‘Social Acceptance’, April is being observed as Autism Awareness Month. Experts got together at a ceremony in Gulshan-e-Iqbal on the eve of World Autism Day.
Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed and Information Minister Raza Haroon were the chief guests. Centre for Autism Director Rohi Maroof and other doctors were also present.
While Dr Sagheer and Haroon assured the gathering that they were trying to improve the quality of care available for autistic children, experts reiterated the symptoms and causes of the syndrome.
Putting an end to the notion that it is caused by poor parenting, they explained the genetic disorder in layman’s terms. “Genetics is most likely the major cause of autism. Researchers believe there may be 10 to 20 genes involved, making it a complex genetic disorder,” said Prof Ayesha Mehnaz.
Speaking about the prognosis of the disorder, she explained that two major lifetime studies have shown that 90 per cent of adults cannot work or live independently.
People or children with autism also have poor eye contact, flat facial expressions, and a marked impairment in communication and therefore also have a difficult time reading others, said child psychiatrist, Dr Munir Hamirani. He added that restricted expression, gestures and body language also jeopardise their social skills.
Dr Rubab Khan, another child psychiatrist, told the audience that autism can worsen if left untreated. However, many treatments are now available, and there is much more hope. Toxins may be a factor in triggering autism, but there is no proven link between the two.
Dr Mobina Agboatwala referred to a ‘Viral Vaccination Connection’ that proves that certain cases of autism stemmed from intestinal abnormalities. Mercury in a certain vaccine was also implicated as a contributory factor, while Chelation used in shampoos, preservatives and as a water softner, can lower calcium levels and affect neuron functioning.
“In a nutshell, expecting mothers need to be extremely careful during their pregnancies,” said the paediatrician. There is no medicine that treats the underlying problem of autism. “People must realise the intensity of mental and developmental disorders among children and its severe consequences for society in general,” she added.
The doctors urged parents and their physicians to make use of the Diagnostic Criteria for Autism, that includes the symptoms of the disorder.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2011.