WASHINGTON (WDVM) — In 2007, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, chairwoman of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development, proposed the United Nations establish April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day.
The CDC estimates 1 in 54 children in the U.S. have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Qatar’s Deputy Chief of Mission Dr. Hamad Al Muftah says 1 in 88 have been diagnosed in his country.
This Autism Awareness Month, the Embassy of Qatar is partnering with the International Spy Museum and the Organization for Autism Research to expand services for kids on the spectrum.
“Change can only happen at the community level,” Al Muftah said. “So we decided that we should partner with these entities and NGO’s [non-governmental organizations] within the U.S. from different states that work directly with their communities.”
This Saturday, with the help of the embassy, the International Spy Museum is hosting Spy School 101: workshops and activities for kids on the spectrum, and the chance to meet the museum’s executive director, who’s also a former spy.
The museum’s Youth Education Director Jackie Eyl says the museum works hard to make accommodations all year long. “The Spy Museum has something for everyone. If we get a phone call, like, ‘A family is afraid to come during regular hours, it’s too crowded,’ we’ll come in early and let them in early. We actually have downloadable resources on our website that helps families prepare for their visit if they have children on the autism spectrum.”
Meanwhile, the Organization for Autism Research has advocated for research and autism awareness for nearly 20 years. Last year, Executive Director Mike Maloney traveled to Qatar to exchange strategies.
“They have an interest in autism in OAR and we have an interest in trying to have some of our materials to be adapted and translated into Arabic for use in Qatar,” Maloney said.
That includes OAR’s Kits for Kids: kid-friendly programming that teaches non-autistic kids how to support their peers with autism.
Naina Chernoff, a mom of a 14-year-old on the spectrum, is a longtime autism advocate who worked for OAR before taking a step back to help with her son’s schooling during the pandemic. When Dylan, her son, was in elementary school, Chernoff introduced him to his class.
“And now that he’s in middle school, a lot of the peers who he knew in elementary school know him still and so that has actually proved to be very useful and beneficial because they all still accept him,” she said. “Anything that we can do that can create a more accepting world for them will also help with their own self-acceptance and also help them self advocate.”
Chernoff said the Spy Museum’s accommodations can help kids, like her son Dylan, feel more comfortable during their visit. “Families like ours are not seen as ‘disruptions’ for others because that’s how we’re often made to feel.”
“This research, these programs, these technologies; working and partnering with these NGOs empower and help these families deal with these cases,” said Al Muftah. “So it’s very important.”