Two studies in Qatar offer snapshot of autism in an Arabic country

Researchers conduct first autism prevalence survey in Qatar and validate screening tool in Arabic

July 9, 2019

NEW YORK (July 7, 2019) -- A team of researchers recently completed the first autism prevalence survey in Qatar, finding a prevalence rate of 1.14 percent, or 1 in 88 children. The rate is similar to rates found across other international studies.

The survey of children and families in the Qatari national health system, as well as interviews with parents in a group of schools, serves as a potential model for estimating autism in other Gulf-area and Arabic countries. It was published in the May online issue of The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

“Much like the CDC rates published every two years in the U.S., this first survey will help Qatar measure changes in autism prevalence moving forward,” said co-author Dr. Eric Fombonne, M.D., professor at Oregon Health & Science University. “This will help policy makers and providers develop programs and policies targeted at improving early identification and treatment.”

The same group of researchers initially validated a translated version of a common screening tool called the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) to use in the Qatari prevalence survey. The results were published online in January in the journal Autism.

While translations of English-language tests used to diagnose autism are common, few have been validated as reliable in their translated form, particularly in Arabic.

Cultural and language differences often present challenges when translating scientific tests. Validated tests are critical to early diagnosis and treatment for children with autism in varied cultural contexts.

This is the first validation of the Arabic version of the SCQ, a 40-question screening tool that scores parents’ answers about their children’s behavior to determine if a full autism evaluation is needed.

Funded primarily by the Qatari government, Autism Speaks facilitated the study as part of its effort to support high-impact research around the world to enhance well-being and outcomes in our community.

“While a robust prevalence estimate is not a prerequisite for action, it can play an important role to inform, enhance and accelerate government policy development and implementation,” said Andy Shih, Senior Vice President for Public Health and Inclusion at Autism Speaks. “Given the many similarities among the Gulf countries, this study is also beginning to galvanize other governments in the region to prioritize autism as a public health challenge.”

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