Autism center aids Iraqi youth and families, proves humanity

In recent months, not-always-progressive Iraq has introduced hope to the community of Baghdad, especially for families with developmentally disabled children.

In March 2011, the Iraqi Development Organization  (IDO) created a center for children with autism, which provides a safe place for autistic children to receive care, as well as an outlet for education in parenting and caring for autistic youth. It currently hosts about 28 children and is increasing in size.

According to PubMed Health, autism is a developmental disorder that typically appears within the first three years of a child’s life.

Symptoms include difficulty with social interactions and communication. Children with autism may be unable to talk, make friends or play games.

They tend to be withdrawn and overly sensitive to sensory information.

Sam Cole, a resident advisor and sophomore, has a twin brother, Riley Cole, with autism. Riley’s autism is a key component of Sam’s interactions with his brother.

“His social interactions are strained because he does not understand social cues,” said Sam. “When he was younger, Riley had trouble communicating with others and would talk to himself, if he talked at all.”

According to a 2009 CBS News article, there was almost nothing known about this condition in Iraq. The one doctor who did diagnose and treat the condition fled the country.

This left the treatment facility with only a few unpaid social workers to help the children and the families affected by this disorder. It was located in what was once one of the most dangerous parts of Baghdad which, as a result, prevented a lot of families from receiving the help they needed.

Wafaa al Nuaimi, mother of an 8-year-old with autism, told CNN, “What is preventing the development of specialized centers in Iraq is the war.”  She eventually fled to Syria to obtain help for her child.

Before the IDO created the new center, there was the Al Rahman Institute, another center for autistic children.

According to Al Jazeera, this institute was created by Nibras Sadoun, a woman who adopted an autistic child formally abandoned by his mother. The Al Rahman Institute has grown to include six centers around the country, the newest now in Baghdad. However, Iraq’s government does not fund any of them. Instead, the Institute is supported by the families that use its resources.

It is estimated that there are up to 5,000 Iraqi children diagnosed with autism, but there are likely more who remain undiagnosed. Unfortunately, due to the stigma in Iraqi culture associated with autism, there is not much known about the details of this particular disorder, leading Iraq to label those with autism as merely “slow learners” when in reality, the disorder is much more pervasive than that description.

Iraqi autism centers have helped the children learn simple social skills, and for some children, have made them less violent and more manageable. The centers also provide the parents with a brief respite during the day.

These progressive motions to assist autistic children provide a more positive and humane depiction of Iraq, a country commonly regarded as a negative world power.