Addressing Autism in Palestine

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Palestine is usually mentioned in the news in the political context of the Palestinian /Israeli conflict and resulting violence. What receives less attention however is the daily social, cultural, educational, and health concerns in the Holy Land.

In fact, Palestinian social services are strongly present, working to empower and enhance the daily lives of children, women, young people and people with disabilities through quality education, and compassionate healthcare.  By teaching respect for differences and tolerance, they also promote civic engagement and human right. They are rooted in the local community, with good facilities and highly qualified staff.

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The Jerusalem Princess Basma Centre for Children with Disabilities established in 1965 works for  the Palestinian Children with Disabilities to enjoy developed health, social and economic livelihoods, in compliance with the International Conventions on the Rights of the Children- Rights of People with disabilities.

Thus, the centre provides advanced rehabilitation services and inclusive education for children with disabilities; to facilitate their full integration into their communities, contribute into the development process of the society, and to enjoy dignified living conditions.

In 2010 and with fund from the EU, Princess Basma Centre included the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) as one of the most important programs of the centre. In 3 years, the centre has become one of the pioneering institutions in autism treatment among the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza institutions. It has applied professional activities with autistic children and contributed in increasing the promotion and protection of the rights and entitlements of children with disabilities from East Jerusalem.

The project was initiated in 2010 based on the need to address autism in Palestine. As a result, a classroom, two therapy rooms and one sensory room were built in addition to purchasing augmentative and behavioral toys and tools.In addition, the staff of JCDC working with children with Autism received trainings from local and international institution to build their capacity and improve the level of services provided for children with autism.

A year later, some children with autism were admitted to the centre. Once admitted the children received occupational therapy, speech therapy and psychotherapy, as well they received treatment sessions at the sensory room, which is a unique services provided only at Princess Basma Centre. Meanwhile, it was also important to reach to other community centres to share the experience and reach out to as many children with autism as possible.   So, JCDC team reached out to West Bank autism centers, parents of autistic children and professional who received training and counseling on working with children with autism.  Currently there are 9 children with autism in the centre from East Jerusalem, during the whole period of the project about 100 children with autism were reached, diagnosed and received the necessary treatment in the intermediate level centre centres.

Yasmine’s Journey with Autism.

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Yasmine’s parents always knew that something was not right with their little girl. As an infant, Yasmine was very irritable, especially at bed time. Although her physical development was normal, yet at the age of 9 months, her mother noticed that Yasmine’s communication, social skills and behavior is delayed; she couldn’t sit, make eye contact, grasp a toy, or communicate with children her own age. By eighteen months, Yasmine spoke only a few words, had difficulty walking and eating, limited social engagement, and communicated mostly by crying and screaming.

When Yasmine was brought to Princess Basma Centre at age three she needed help with eating, going to the bathroom, and had problems with fine motor skills. At the centre she was tested and diagnosed with autism. She began a program where she received occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychotherapy, hydrotherapy, and special sessions in the Centre’s sensory room.

After just one year of therapy and with active participation of her parents, Yasmine is now partly integrated in the kindergarten of the Princess Basma Inclusive School. Yasmine has learned the concepts of sharing and waiting her turn, she speaks in full sentences, and can make herself understood by others.

With another year of continuous treatment, we hope Yasmine will be fully integrated in the Inclusive School, and able to fully enjoy her childhood with these newfound skills and abilities. Her family and teachers are incredibly proud and supportive, and they all look forward to seeing Yasmine continue to blossom.