By Neil Moors, Head of Community development, WISH
A busy, now-annual Autism Awareness Month has just concluded here in Qatar, and I am left with a sense of excitement and ambition for the future. I have worked in healthcare for the best part of 25 years and it is fair to say that I have rarely seen such a strong sense of momentum and determination as I have in Qatar around autism.
By way of background, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, who is the chairperson of WISH’s parent organization Qatar Foundation, first proposed World Autism Awareness Day in 2007. It was adopted at the following United Nations General Assembly in 2008 and has been celebrated the world over ever since. Since then, Qatar has also launched its own National Autism Plan, and at WISH we have produced our own report: ‘Autism: A Global Framework for Action’.
So, with such a solid platform, it is no surprise that such positive moment has built up. It is also not surprising that for the most part, research points towards the same conclusion(s); that there needs to be adequate provision of inclusive services across all sectors, particularly for those with autism. For example, upon receipt of our own report, and having considered the recommendations, it was clear to us that we could do more here at WISH to contribute to the National Plan. For a start, we worked with our colleagues in the Qatar Foundation wide Community Development department to open up many of the facilities in Education City to the autistic community. Football pitches, gymnasiums, swimming pools (large and small) were opened up, along with a fully functioning kitchen for those transitioning from their youth to young adulthood and required help with life skills. Fast forward to today and Qatar Foundation has in-house swimming and football coaches who specialize in autism – group classes and 1:1 training is offered, along with summer camps and other fun and stimulating activities!
On a personal level, I have loved every minute of working with our friends in the autism community. It’s true what they say, once you get involved, you simply cannot leave and I have met many inspirational people along the way. So, it was good to see many of these autism champions at the series of events held to mark Autism Awareness Month (oh yes, that has grown too!). The thing I enjoy most about the month is that you get to see both the academic research side, and most importantly, the practical side too. On that particular issue, we often hear the argument that there is enough research and we need more practical input – that’s probably true and I very much take the point, but I don’t see them as being mutually exclusive either. And that’s the point. What really matters is how we all work together; every organization with an interest in working with the autistic community has something to offer. This is where my excitement and ambition comes from, knowing that with such an amazing level of interest, if we all work together in an integrated way, we can only be successful in transforming the lives of many, many people.