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Addressing critical gaps in autism care in GCC

White-paper-Addressing critical gaps in autism care in GCC

Canva Addressing critical gaps in autism care in GCC
In light of World Autism Awareness Day earlier this week, we examine the critical need for comprehensive approaches to autism care in the region.

Recent research from PwC ME on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the GCC region underscores a critical need for comprehensive approaches to autism care in the GCC. Key findings highlight the varied prevalence rates of ASD across the region, with notable discrepancies in diagnosis and care availability. The paper identified a profound impact on families, both economically and socially, and a significant gap in the availability of specialised healthcare professionals and facilities, as well as a lack of community support. The research calls for enhanced public awareness, early detection programmes, and a multidisciplinary care approach to effectively support patients with ASD and their families.

In an interview, Lina Shadid, Health Industries Lead, PwC Middle East, shared: “Our paper highlights key recommendations for multiple stakeholders. It is crucial for the success of new initiatives to also include the voices of individuals living with autism in the decision-making process. This will allow decision makers and policy makers to understand the lived experiences of society and develop relevant and inclusive initiatives and policies that start in childhood and continue to empower and enrich lives throughout adulthood.” Excerpts from the interview.

Can you elaborate on the economic and social impacts of ASD in the GCC?

The economic and social impacts of ASD in the GCC deeply affect families and communities. Families face high financial burdens from diagnosis, therapies, and education, often without full insurance coverage. Socially, stigma and misunderstanding can lead to isolation for individuals with ASD, highlighting the need for greater public awareness and inclusion efforts. Challenges also extend into employment, with adults facing barriers to entering the workforce. Addressing these issues requires a holistic approach, including early intervention, better care access, education reform, and initiatives for workforce integration, aiming to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for individuals with ASD.

Lina shadid.jpg

Lina Shadid

How does early intervention for ASD contribute to potential cost savings?

Early intervention for ASD has been shown to lead to significant improvements in the prognosis and overall well-being of individuals with autism, substantially lowering long-term expenses by reducing the need for intensive treatments and support later. In early childhood, targeted interventions can improve cognitive, communication, and social skills, setting the stage for greater independence. This can lead to decreased reliance on specialised services and support in adulthood. Moreover, integrating individuals with ASD into mainstream education and employment not only enhances their quality of life but also contributes to societal and economic benefits by reducing dependency and enabling productive participation in society and even the workforce.

Essentially, the initial investment in early intervention can offset future costs associated with more complex care needs, contributing to significant cost savings for both families and healthcare systems.

Could you share insights into the multidisciplinary approach to care and support recommended for individuals with ASD in the GCC?

A recommended multidisciplinary approach for ASD care in the GCC involves a diverse team of healthcare professionals and educators, including paediatricians, psychologists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and special educators. Together, they develop and implement tailored care plans targeting communication skills, daily living skills, and behavioural management. Key to this approach is seamless collaboration within the care team and a commitment to adapting strategies based on the individual’s progress. This framework emphasises the need for improved training and better integration of services to facilitate comprehensive, accessible care for individuals with ASD across the region.

What are some challenges regarding the current state of ASD care and support in the GCC, and what steps are recommended to address these?

Challenges include the scarcity of specialised professionals, limited public awareness, and inconsistent care quality. To address these, we recommend scaling up professional training programmes, implementing widespread awareness campaigns, and enhancing the accessibility and capacity of autism centres. Additionally, adopting a holistic care model that includes support for transitioning into adulthood and beyond is crucial for providing lifelong support.

Can you discuss any collaborative efforts or partnerships aimed at improving outcomes for individuals with ASD?

Certainly, there are impactful collaborations focused on enhancing ASD care across the GCC. Notable among these is the strategic partnership between the Ministry of Health and private healthcare providers, aimed at expanding specialised ASD services. This collaboration seeks to pool resources, share expertise, and jointly develop professional training programs.

Furthermore, GCC countries are engaging in international partnerships with research centres and universities specialising in autism. These collaborations are dedicated to exchanging research insights and applying evidence-based practices tailored to local contexts within the GCC.

In addition, innovative partnerships with technology firms are being forged to create educational and therapeutic tools for individuals with ASD. These tech initiatives are designed to improve learning outcomes and offer novel communication methods. They demonstrate a comprehensive approach that combines local insights with global expertise to foster improved care and support.

Recognizing that individuals with ASD have unique talents and perspectives is essential. By creating more inclusive and supportive environments, we can improve their quality of life and enrich our communities. Emphasising the importance of inclusion, advocacy, and empowerment, our report calls for a collective effort to ensure that individuals with ASD and their families can lead fulfilling lives.

Click below to read the 'Autism in the GCC' report