World Autism Awareness Day is being observed today (April 2) across the globe, including Pakistan. The objective is to increase people's awareness about children afflicted by autism.
According to the Pakistan Autism Society, about 400,000 children are suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Pakistan.
Autism is a developmental disability that remains with a person for life.
This condition affects the afflicted person’s brain functions. The first signs usually appear before a child is three years old. People with autism often find social interaction difficult as they are likely to have problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, demonstrate restrictive and repetitive behaviour, and have a limited set of interests and activities.
Autism is a complex group of neurodevelopmental disorders, also referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The term ‘spectrum’ is used to describe the symptoms involving a wide range of skill impairments in ASD children. Some children display milder impairments while others may present more severe forms of ASD. Therefore, there is a need to explore the genetic markers responsible for ASD in Asian populations.
So far, most of the ASD-related genetic association studies have been performed on Chinese, Korean, and Indian populations, but there is no genetic association study reported in the Pakistani population yet. There is no reliable data available regarding the prevalence of ASD in Pakistan.
However, the Pakistan Autism Society has estimated that approximately 400,000 children in Pakistan are suffering from ASD.
Examining the genetic variants in Pakistani individuals has been challenging, as individuals with psychiatric disorders do not report their disease due to the possibility of social stigma. This results in an under-reporting of the number of individuals in Pakistan with mental illnesses and prevents patients from receiving care by trained professionals.
The diagnosis and treatment of autism in Pakistan occur in multiple settings and is provided by a variety of health professionals. Unfortunately, knowledge and awareness about autism are low among Pakistani healthcare professionals and the presence of inaccurate and outdated beliefs regarding this disorder may compromise early detection and timely referral for interventions.
There is a need to create awareness among the public about autism and how to address this debilitating illness. First and foremost the Pakistani people need to know everything about autism.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2021.
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