QBRI analyzes the theme of this year's World Autism Month

Navigating from Surviving to Thriving - Advancing Autism Awareness, Acceptance, and Appreciation in Qatar

28 Apr 2024

The Colors of Autism

The theme of this year’s World Autism Awareness Month, From Surviving to Thriving, focuses on achieving Awareness, Acceptance and Appreciation of neurominorities - individuals with neurological differences such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, Tourette syndrome, and others.

From Surviving to Thriving entails a shift from scant acknowledgment to active engagement and marks a crucial evolution in how society perceives and interacts with individuals with autism. The research teams at Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) emphasize the need to design and implement policies with a focus on inclusivity, accessibility, and tailored support to children with autism in Qatar. Indeed, this long-term project starts with awareness campaigns to break down barriers of ignorance and foster  understanding of the diverse experiences individuals with autism go through. In this regard, QBRI affirms the need to rebut common myths about autism and replace them with solid facts as highlighted in Table 1, as part of an awareness campaign.

Acceptance follows, promoting inclusion and implementing inclusive education policies that ensure children with autism have access to mainstream schools with appropriate support services. This includes training teachers and staff in autism awareness and providing individualized education plans. Importantly,  researchers at QBRI’s Neurological Disorders Research Center (NDRC) are actively participating in research designed to facilitate early screening and diagnosis of autism, which we believe should be followed by policies ensuring timely access to intervention services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy. 

In light of this, it is worth mentioning that the NDRC is among the first institutions in Qatar and the region to take a holistic approach to promote transition from basic to translational research. This unique approach includes modeling stem cells in a dish to generate neurons from individuals with autism, and subsequently studying the development of the disorder and screening for therapeutic drugs. In addition, policies should be established to provide support services for families of children with autism, including respite care, counseling, and support groups. This is extremely essential for the  families of individuals with autism who sometimes feel isolated and struggle alone with their children.

Finally, appreciation recognizes and celebrates the unique strengths and perspectives that individuals with neurodiverse conditions bring to the table. Efforts should be made to promote employment opportunities and vocational training programs for individuals with autism. Encouraging community integration and social inclusion is necessary if not mandatory, including recreational programs, accessible public spaces, and awareness campaigns to reduce stigma. By championing these principles, we not only empower individuals to thrive but also create a more compassionate and inclusive society where everyone’s potential can flourish. 

Table 1: Myths and Facts Regarding Autism



Individuals with autism lack empathy.

Individuals with autism may have challenges in understanding and expressing empathy in conventional ways. Empathy in autism may be different rather than absent, with individuals often demonstrating empathy through actions or expressions that may be less typical or easily recognizable to neurotypical individuals.

Autism can be outgrown or cured.

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition characterized by differences in social communication, behavior, and sensory processing. Individuals may learn and develop new skills over time, but autism is not something that can be cured. Early intervention, therapy, and support services can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life.

Autism is caused by bad parenting or neglect.

Autism is a complex condition with a strong genetic component, influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Parenting practices do not cause autism, although supportive and nurturing environments can positively impact the well-being and development of individuals with autism.

People with autism are intellectually disabled.

Some individuals with autism may have co-occurring intellectual disabilities and many others have average or above-average intelligence. Autism is a spectrum disorder, it encompasses a wide range of abilities and challenges. Some individuals may excel in math, science, or arts, while facing difficulties in other areas, such as social interaction or communication.

Autism is primarily a male condition.

Historically, autism diagnosis criteria were based on male presentation, leading to a “camouflaging” effect, underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis of females and individuals from marginalized communities. Emerging research emphasizes the importance of recognizing autism across diverse populations.

Individuals with autism do not form meaningful relationships.

Although social communication differences may present challenges in initiating and maintaining relationships, individuals with autism can develop strong bonds and connections with family members, friends, and peers. Supportive environments, social skills training, and interventions tailored to individual needs can enhance social interaction and relationship-building skills.

Autism is solely a social communication disorder.

Challenges in social communication and interaction are core features of autism, but the condition encompasses a broad range of characteristics like sensory sensitivities, repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Also, many individuals have co-occurring conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, or epilepsy, which further contribute to the complexity of the disorder.

Autism only becomes apparent in early childhood.

Autism is typically diagnosed in early childhood, but signs and symptoms may become more apparent as a child grows and faces new social and academic demands. Some individuals may receive a diagnosis later in life, particularly those who have milder forms of autism or who belong to underdiagnosed groups. 

People with autism have exceptional abilities.

Some individuals with autism may demonstrate exceptional skills or talents in specific areas, such as music, art, or mathematics, but not all individuals with autism are savants. Savant abilities are rare and occur in a small percentage. It's essential to recognize and celebrate the diverse strengths and abilities of individuals with autism, whether or not they have exceptional talents.


Contributed by: Dr. Salam Salloum-Asfar (Postdoc, QBRI), & Dr. Wared Nour Eldine (Postdoc, QBRI),

Editor: Dr. Prasanna Kolatkar (Senior Scientist, QBRI), & Dr. Zeyaul Islam (Postdoc, QBRI)