Autism is a subject rarely addressed in Egyptian society. There is no awareness of it and some people have never even heard of it. In fact, the only way one becomes aware of autism is through Western TV shows and books. One non-profit organisation is trying to change this: the Egyptian Autistic Society.
On their website they explain what autism is: “Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of a child’s life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that profoundly affects the functioning of the brain. It is estimated to occur in as many as one in 500 individuals.”
We contacted the founder of the Egyptian Autistic Society, Dalia Soliman. “I am the president and founder of EAS. I established it in 1999 when I returned to Egypt after studying abroad and realised that there was nothing established here for children with autism.
I received my Bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from New South Wales University in Sydney, and I did my Masters degree in autism at Birmingham University in the United Kingdom,” said Soliman.
They offer several services with regards to autism, including:
“Diagnostic assessment: An assessment which diagnoses whether the child is on the autistic spectrum or not.
Skills assessment: The second step after the diagnostic assessment is a skills assessment. The aim of this assessment is to know exactly where the child is on every skill such as communication, social skills, academic skills and behaviour.
IEP: An Individual Education Plan is written up for each child based on the findings of the skills assessment. This is a personal programme which aims to improve the child’s weak points and develop his or her strengths.
Headstart Programme: The Headstart Programme is a full day programme from 9am-2pm, 5 days a week. It is an intensive “school” day. The programme aims to cover 25 hours of the 40 hours required for children with autism.”
They also provide referrals to doctors specialised in autism and a summer camp for autistic children.
The Egyptian Autistic Society is planning several events in April to raise awareness for the cause.
“We hope to spread awareness about autism during April by having a carnival on Saturday at the Shooting Club for 150 children with autism spectrum disorders and celebrities. There is also a walk on Tuesday 2 April at 4pm in Zamalek where we will light up the Opera House in blue as a sign of hope for autism and release blue wishing lanterns.”
“On Monday 8 April we will be opening, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, three prototype classrooms at the Abbaseya Hospital where we have just finished training the staff. This is the first step in establishing a nationwide protocol from which children with autism from all backgrounds can benefit.”