Posted on April 30, 2017

Qatar University (QU) colleges of Engineering (CENG) and Education (CED) organized a workshop on Autism in collaboration with Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs to discuss Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and provide solutions for children diagnosed with ASD.

Attendees included CENG Dean Dr Khalifa Al-Khalifa, Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs Acting Director of Family Support and Psychological Guidance Dr Ayman Al Deeb, Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs Acting Director of Treatment Services Dr Mohammed Talfat, CED Department of Psychological Sciences Head Dr Asma Al Attiyah, CENG Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Associate Professor Dr Uvais Qidwai, CENG Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Associate Professor Dr John-John Cabibihan, Qatar Transportation and Traffic Safety Center (QTTSC) Assistant Research Professor Dr Wael Alhajyaseen, and Programme Manager of Road Safety Research at Hasselt University Transportation Research Institute (IMOB) Prof Tom Brijs, as well as CENG and CED students and staff.

QU and Shafallah Center for Children 2 [].jpgIn his remarks, Dr Khalifa Al-Khalifa said: “CENG is demonstrating its commitment to tackling local and international challenges by providing research solutions for issues that are of the interest of the wider community. This workshop aligns with the College’s ongoing efforts to seeking efficient solutions to issues that impact on Qatari society and beyond, and to provide various services that contribute to the country’s social and economic growth. CENG supports ASD since it is one of the most commonly reported neurodevelopmental disorders worldwide. The inclusion of disabled individuals in the Qatari society is consistent with the human and social development pillars stated by Qatar National Vision 2030.”

Dr Asma Al Attiyah said: “Through our department, we are committed to preparing the specialists in the special education by motivating students to be trained in the different private and government organizations in Qatar. Based upon relations with partners, we equip students with deep knowledge of the rights of people with special needs in order to get them involved in the community that believes in their rights and that respects variety.” Dr Ayman Al Deeb said: “The most important issue in autism is the early diagnosis which helps find solutions and treatment for autistics and build the training programs they need, since it will be difficult to provide the needed treatment at a late stage.”

Dr Uvais Qidwai said: “One common feature that appears in almost all children with ASD is their shyness and seclusion-loving behavior. This leads to a human-phobic attitude with such kids not being able to respond to simple phrases, social behaviors, eye contact, making friends, and ultimately lag further behind in terms of learning. However, like all other kids, these children also like to play with toys. Many reports have suggested different types of toys for these kids but through our own experiments we have found the robotic toys of various forms and sizes to be the most effective ones. Our hypothesis was to control the toys with specific activities under the guidance of psychologists and teachers of such children in such a way that the child is involved in the activity in the form of a usual game or play activity. For an autistic child, a robot may be less intimidating and more predictable than a human. At the same time, having a human override feature in the form of a remote control will enable the parents, teachers, and therapists to interject newer routines and actions slowly and gradually so that the child adjusts to the new objectives. This flexibility allows robotic toys to evolve from simple machines to systems that demonstrate more complex behavior patterns.”

Dr Wael Alhajyaseen said: “Researchers at QTTSC are studying the driving behaviors of adults with ASD. Novice young drivers with ASD are at high risk of safety problems while driving due to the possible cognitive limitations. Therefore, studying their behavior and limitations regarding driving tasks is essential to develop driver-training techniques that will improve their driving skills. These efforts are being developed in collaboration with Qatar Rehabilitation Institute at Hamad Medical Corporation, Karwa Driving School, and Dallah Driving Academy. These studies facilitate the understanding of driving performance of youth with ASD and attempt to develop tools to improve their driving skills, which will support their integration in the community. Furthermore, this will provide youth with ASD with confidence to perform high-quality driving tasks, which will enhance their autonomy levels and improve their quality of life. This is expected to have positive impacts on their psychological wellbeing as on their productive contribution to the community.”

Prof Tom Brijs said: “Being able to drive is one of the key factors for youngsters to increase autonomy and to obtain a job. The good news is that many youngsters with ASD can learn to drive as long as the driving instructor follows an adapted approach in his driver-training. However, we observed that many driving instructors currently do not know how to cope with young novice drivers with ASD. By providing driving instructors with the right tips and tricks, driver-training for youngsters with ASD can become more effective.”