Social media balloon campaign to help autistic children

Ignorance about autism spectrum disorder is stifling the development of autistic children, some of whom are kept hidden from public view, according to the Autism Trust Foundation, a non-profit group in Dubai.

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DUBAI // Eye-catching social-media posts of UAE residents blowing up balloons are part of a new campaign to help autistic children.

The campaign was launched on World Autism Day on Thursday.

Ignorance about autism spectrum disorder is stifling the development of autistic children, some of whom are kept hidden from public view, according to the Autism Trust Foundation, a non-profit group in Dubai.

The foundation hopes that the campaign, using the hashtag #blowaballoon, will raise awareness and spur people to learn about the condition and where they can access therapy in Dubai.

Most children with an autism spectrum disorder have difficulties interacting with others.

The foundation is helping these children to communicate using alternative methods of language and speech.

Registered in Britain and with the United Nations department of economic and social affairs, the foundation aims to encourage and support families of autistic children who struggle to get therapy because of financial or geographical restrictions.

Blowing balloons can help autistic children to relax.

Treatment for autism varies from Dh300 to Dh700 an hour in the UAE, according to Fahed bin Al Shaikh, deputy chairman of the foundation. “Many people cannot afford to pay and have no financial support,” he said.

“This is where the trust comes in. We need more centres and more charitable donations – we cannot treat all the autistic children on our own.”

Mr Al Shaikh said the foundation was hoping that its idea of blowing balloons would become popular on social media and direct people to its website.

An estimated 40 million people suffer from autism worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

It affects one in 150 children around the world, up from one in 10,000 about 20 years ago.

The foundation’s specialist centres offer speech and language therapy, and occupational and behavioural therapy.

Prices start at Dh110 for a one-to-one therapy session, with a Dh500 registration fee. Parents can get support at its centre at Dubai Silicon Oasis.

“Some of the families do not want to accept that their child has autism, and so hide them away from life. It is normal for some parents to lock their children in the house,” said Hamad Al Blooshi, a volunteer with the foundation in Dubai.

“We want to tell people it is normal to have a child with autism, to take them out and to help them live a normal life.”

To support the cause, readers can post a photo of themselves blowing up a balloon with the hashtag blowaballoon on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Visit atf.uno for more information on the foundation.

nwebster@thenational.ae

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