Lebanese Autism Society

Establishment of the Lebanese Autism Society (LAS)

In 1998, Mrs. Arwa El-Amine Halawi, mother of an autistic child and current President of the Lebanese Autism Society, had the opportunity to encounter other mothers whose lives had been touched by Autism. Having suffered the same ordeal and gone through the same struggles, those mothers felt a tremendous relief sharing their experiences and venting the dreadful feelings of stigma, denial and depression they endured before coming to terms with their children’s condition. Realizing that a problem shared is a problem halved, they decided to join hands with a number of professionals to establish an organization devoted to Autism. Hence, the Lebanese Autism Society came to light in March 1999 under notification No. 19/AD to offer support and services to children diagnosed with Autism and to spread public awareness about the problems associated with this disorder and the optimal approaches to cope with it.

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disorder generally diagnosed during the first three years of a child’s life and is characterized by impairments at the level of social interactions and communication skills. The main causes for Autism remain unknown, but the factors thought to promote autistic symptoms are associated with defective genes and environmental exposures that affect the normal functioning of the brain.

Autism cases range from extremely mild to extremely severe and individuals with Autism may vary widely in ability and personality. However, the symptoms mostly observed in patients include repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, delayed speech and language and cognitive deficits, social withdrawal , resistance to touch and lack of eye contact, to name but a few.

Although there is still no cure for Autism, Mrs. Halawi reports that huge progress can be made with early diagnosis and intervention, which are vital to reduce the severity of the case, teach patients basic self-help skills and help them become more independent when they grow up.

Programs and Activities

In realization of its mission, the LAS initiated several programs that focus on developing the communication, social and cognitive skills of children with Autism so as to facilitate their integration into mainstream social and education settings.

The needs of children with Autism are addressed through the CCA (Classes for Children with Autism) project, which is applied currently at Collège du Sacré-Coeur and Al-Doha High School. This project uses a holistic approach to cater for the individual learning needs of children with Autism with the help of a multidisciplinary team including speech and psychomotor therapists, special educational staff and shadow teachers whose job is to attend to autistic students and secure their partial or complete inclusion in the classroom and their participation in classroom activities.

In 2006, the Lebanese Autism Society launched its Technical School for Adolescents with Autism in a bid to provide autistic teenagers with individualized vocational training that would promote self-care and prepare them for future integration in working environments, each according to their level of ability. This program organizes workshops aimed at facilitating their adaptation to regular everyday activities like cooking or gardening while occupational therapists set out to help them learn and develop different vocational skills like chocolate-making, photography, painting, carpentry, etc… Shadow teaching is also provided to manage the behavior of autistic teenagers and improve their vocational performance in regular working settings and encourage their independence.

The third project that the LAS has been involved in since 2005 is the Early Diagnosis and Intervention Center (CDIP). This center was founded by Al Waleed Bin Talal Foundation and it works towards ensuring early diagnosis and intervention for children with autistic symptoms and other learning disabilities under the age of 6. A multidisciplinary team including special educational staff, psychomotor therapists, speech therapists, clinical psychologists and a coordinator is responsible for meeting with the parents seeking help or consultation. After taking down the case history of the enrolled child, the team makes its assessment and tailors a corresponding action plan. In addition to the intervention sessions and individual education plans it offers, the CDIP tracks the progress of the child in question through cooperation with schools and nurseries and a close follow up with shadow teachers. The team also issues recommendations and dedicates sessions to parental guidance.

Awareness and Funds

The LAS provides networking opportunities for parents by organizing monthly support groups aimed to reconcile them with their children’s condition, educate them on how to face the social stigma surrounding special needs and offer them outlets for their fears and frustrations. Special attention is given to train local and regional Autism organizations and hold conferences and seminars.

Under the sponsorship of the World Bank, the Society has also published a number of useful booklets to raise people’s awareness about Autism and guide mothers to better cope with it, not to mention the wide spectrum of events and fundraising activities (Fun Day, Gala Dinner, etc) it organizes to push Autism into national spotlight. Financial support is also channeled to the LAS through individual donations, international grants and subsidies from the Ministry of Social Affairs.   

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