NGO calls for more support

Kurdistan Region sees rise in reported autism cases

ERBIL — The Kurdistan Autism Society reported an increase in autism diagnoses across the region on Tuesday, marking World Autism Day and stating nearly one new case was identified in Kurdistan each day over the past year.

KAS officials said 327 new cases were recorded in 2023, bringing the total number of known registered cases to 3,667. Erbil currently has the highest number of reported cases in the Kurdistan Region.

Kamal Jabari, head of the KAS Higher Committee, told 964media his NGO has worked for over a decade to support families navigate daily life with members who have the disorder and urged the government to do more.

According to Jabari, the region hosts eight training centers where specialists educate families on autism and how to implement common treatments such as speech and language therapy as well as play-based therapy.

Jabari said the current facilities were insufficient in light of the growing number of reported cases.

“Just 11% of autistic children receive monthly financial assistance from the government,” he said, advocating for government officials to provide free treatment at public hospitals and mandate a 50% discount at private clinics as well as mandatory inclusion of services in private healthcare.

Furthermore, Jabari highlighted the need for large rehabilitation centers catering to individuals aged 12-28, offering 24-hour care to provide families with much-needed respite. “This would provide their families with relief and rest,” he added.

The Kurdistan Region currently has 49 centers, with 41 private and eight government-run facilities in Duhok, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Garmiyan, although Jabari argues that more are needed.

One family in Erbil with three autistic children, aged 14, 10, and 8, shared their struggles with 964media, shedding light on the complexities of living with autism. The mother described immense challenges and and emphasized the lack of awareness and understanding from the public. “Those without autistic children can’t comprehend the pain,” she said, expressing disappointment with perceived government indifference.

Both parents acknowledged the emotional and physical toll, with the father, who works to provide for the family, commending his wife’s strength as the primary caregiver. “Raising these children is tough and I’m thankful for my wife’s patience with them, since the responsibility largely rests on her,” he said.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that manifests differently in each individual. Symptoms can appear with varying levels of severity and unique strengths and challenges.