Latest autism research discussed at WCM-Q Grand Rounds
The latest research on the prevalence, diagnosis and treatment of autism was shared by one of Qatar’s leading child and adolescent psychiatrist at the most recent installment of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar’s Grand Rounds series.
Dr. Muhammad Waqar Azeem, inaugural chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Sidra Medical and Research Center, said that autism is now believed to affect approximately one child in 68, with boys four to five times more likely to be affected than girls.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that usually becomes apparent in early childhood and is characterized by persistent deficits in social interactions and communication, difficulty understanding social relationships, and restricted and repetitive behaviors. While the disorder can lead to social isolation and anxiety, early diagnosis and sensitive professional care can help children with autism and their parents lead fulfilling and better lives, explained Dr. Azeem. He said:
“Early diagnosis is crucial as early intervention including speech therapy is extremely important. Furthermore, children with autism can become frustrated and throw temper tantrums, which can be mistaken as simple bad behavior, which will leave the child confused and will damage their self-esteem.
However, if we reach a diagnosis early we can work closely with the parents to make positive interventions that help them understand behavior patterns better and modify the child’s activities to achieve stability and emotional wellbeing.”
Dr. Azeem, who is also associate clinical professor at the Yale Child Study Center of Yale University School of Medicine in Connecticut, explained that the way autism is diagnosed has changed significantly in recent years. Several subtypes of autism that were previously categorized separately have been brought under the single umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as ‘DMS-5’.
Some children with ASD exhibit extraordinary talents for art, music, mathematics or memorization, and Dr. Azeem stressed how crucial it is to discover the strengths of individuals with autism and to them to use them their advantage.
Speaking at WCM-Q to an audience of physicians, pharmacists, nurses, medical educators, students and other healthcare providers, Dr. Azeem also emphasized the importance of paying close attention to the needs of parents of children with ASD. “If the parents are not doing well then the child will not do well,” he said.
“The goal is therefore not simply to improve symptoms; our focus as clinicians and physicians must be on improving the overall quality of life for the child and the parents. That is the only way to provide truly effective, compassionate, child and family centered care.”
The activity was an Accredited Group Learning Activity (Category 1) as defined by the Qatar Council for Healthcare Practitioners-Accreditation Department and was approved for a maximum of 1.00 hours.
Dr. Stephen Atkin, professor of medicine at WCM-Q, said:
“We are delighted to be able to welcome such a distinguished guest to speak at Grand Rounds. I have no doubt that in his role as Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Sidra Medical and Research Center Dr. Azeem is bringing patient care to Qatar that is absolutely world-class.”
Dr. Azeem is also chair of Qatar’s National Autism Working Group and vice chair of the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) Autism Forum.