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Friday, 23 April 2021 08:17 GMT

SAVE Programme for autistic children comes to Jordan


(MENAFN - Jordan Times) AMMAN — When Deena J was born five years ago, her parents did not know she was autistic. Only a year and a half later, her parents found that she has a neurodevelopmental condition affecting her communication and how she interacts with the world around her.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, autism is a spectrum disorder that causes problems with the way one thinks, feels and relates to others, and can often be a lifelong condition that cannot be fully cured.

Since Deena's condition was made apparent, her parents have been tugging her around Jordan from one centre to another, trying to find ways of improving her behavioural functioning.

'If it wasn't private centres, the government centres are failing extremely, no hygiene and cleanliness, I've been going to different centres for autism for years now, and one is worse than the other. At one centre, they hit my child, at the other, during the winter they wash the children in the bathroom with freezing ice water. When the children come back from the treatments, they always come back dirty, no care, no improvements,' Deena's mother Amani Amr told The Jordan Times at the American Centre for Autism in Amman.

She was there Saturday to accompany Deena of her fourth session of the SAVE Programme, a new initiative launched in Jordan, after working in the US for 10 years.

The American Centre for Autism inaugurated on Wednesday its first clinic near the Seventh Circle and started with its first batch of patients, which were all pro-bono this week.

'An estimated 1 in 2 children will be born autistic by the year 2020,' said Brandon Crawford, the medical director at the centre, adding that 'this is why it's important to educate the public about this condition and work on ways to retrain the brains of those affected by it.'

The SAVE Programme, which stands for 'Sensori-motor Auditory Visual Education' is a five-day sensory-integration programme that treats autistic children to retrain their brain, stimulate their senses and improve their focus and daily function, according to the programme's website.

'We're here to bring a new approach to the treatment of autism. We're integrating the senses in trying to rebuild their neuro-networks so they function better; retraining the brain to accept social triggers, and give appropriate responses,' said Crawford who has been working with autistic children for the past eight years.

The 10-hour treatment, stretched over five days, uses technology to stimulate the senses of the child suffering from autism. The Jordan Times went into one of the treatment rooms to document the process.

The child is accompanied with a parent into a dark room, and is securely fastened to a bed that electronically moves in a preprogrammed rhythm. The child is then given a pair of earphones where he or she listens to music, follows lights on a screen and is manoeuvred by the bed.

'Most children suffering from autism are left-ear dominant, and the sensory movements inside the treatment room are all designed to promote right-ear dominance,' said Crawford, highlighting its beneficial role in the prefrontal cortex, which helps humans in planning, decision making and self expression.

Ed Hossen, one of the centre's organisers, spoke about Deena's improvement over the past few days.

'Deena isn't a deaf girl, but when she first came to the centre, she wouldn't respond when you called her. Yesterday, when she was leaving, I called out to her to say goodbye and she turned around and shook my hand. Her dad was so shocked and said that it was the first time she shook someone's hand. It was very emotional,' said Hossen.

Deena's mother said that after a few days of treatment, she has witnessed improvements in her daughter's focus.

'Before, if we were out on the streets, Deena would be staring out into space, not looking in front of her, forcing me to hold her hand at all times. Now, I'm much more relaxed because she's much more cognizant,' said Amr.

Amr said that autism is still yet to be fully understood by society and concluded with the hope for more light to be shed on this issue and for more behavioural programmes to be introduced to the Kingdom.

Sunday, Crawford and his team will be hosting a workshop and a presentation about the SAVE Programme to medical professionals from the region. The event will be held at The Crowne Plaza from 12 noon to 6pm, and is open to the general public.

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