Worldwide, the month of April is celebrated as Autism Awareness Month. In lieu of this occasion, the NUMS Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences (DSBS) organized a one-hour online sensitization session for the student population on 12th April 2021.
Ms. Taskeen Mansoor (Lecturer-Anthropology, DSBS) opened the session by highlighting the need for awareness around autism which has seen a dramatic increase in its prevalence over the years. She mentioned how the lack of information about its symptoms and uncertain pathways to care yield in misdiagnosed or undiagnosed cases that subsequently lead to poor quality of life for affected children and their families.
Ms. Anum Farooq (Clinical Psychologist), with academic certifications in Autism Screening and Management, research publications and professional experience of working with children on the autism spectrum, had kindly consented to speak on the issue. In her presentation, the guest speaker provided the audience with a holistic understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder by talking about its physical, cognitive, emotional and social aspects. She discussed how, as a neuro-developmental disorder, the signs of autism can be observed in the first two years of life. Elaborating the wide variation in autism cases, she showed examples of how each case of autism is different from the other based on the type of symptoms and their severity on a spectrum. The guest speaker talked about the screening tools for diagnosis, behavioral therapies and relevant organizations currently working in Pakistan. She also explored the struggles of people with autism and people working for autism in different capacities, as a caregiver, a researcher, an educationist or a health care professional.
Feedback forms were also disseminated to students who acknowledged the command of guest speaker on the topic. The students from social and behavioral sciences and public health department requested for further sessions on childhood disorders and their management along with exposure to institutes providing therapies to children. The session ended with a vote of thanks.
As the world is facing a crisis of pandemic, on one hand where it is essential to take care of those who fall prey to this virus, it is equally essential to care for those who are forced to stay indoors and have to follow a monotonous pattern of routine. During this seismic shift it is necessary for everyone to keep their spirits high, both morally and spiritually. This current situation of lockdown and unprecedented vacations in academic institutions is very unfortunate and long term confinement of people in their homes can give rise to many psychological issues like stress, depression, anxiety etc.
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, NUMS tried its best to facilitate the students in these hard times. Along with the flexible online class timings, it adopted different strategies for different subjects, keeping in view the comfort of students. To ensure that students maintain a healthy mindset in these hard times, Ms. Saira Javed (Lecturer – Clinical Psychology) is playing a pivotal role by conducting Online Counseling Sessions on weekly basis with all running semesters of DSBS which helps the students not only to express their concerns but they also receive advices on how to engage themselves in activities that help them to divert their attention from stressful global scenarios. This proves to be very helpful in eradicating anxiety and stress.
The Group Counselling Sessions are held weekly with interaction through online application along with full time availability on mobile/WhatsApp in case any student want to take suggestions or word their problems, expecting solutions to them, thus providing Individual Counselling Sessions as well.
Ms. Saira and students were able to come up with the theme of Art from Home during the first series of session, including the participation of students in creative activities like photography (from within the home), painting and sketching and involving in activities like cooking and baking or any other talent they are endowed with. It was suggested to develop a hobby to engage in when feeling stressed like exercising, reading or other soothing activities.
In the second phase, students were encouraged not only to keep their own mental state in check but also those surrounding them, family and friends. Indoor group activities were appreciated, students themselves can become a support system for their family especially for elderly and young children who might not be able to rationally deal with the anxiety due to confinement in homes and continuously watching and listening news. This session was titled as Reducing Stress in Yourself and People around You. While the third and last stage is planned to taught stress, anxiety and depression reducing Self-Therapy that includes Deep Breathing and Mindfulness Mediation.
This thoughtful act on the behalf of department is of much help to students and their significant others to keep them away from developing distress and depression. These sessions aim at engaging students in constructive activities. This platform provides students with strategies to cope up with stress, fear and other detrimental effects associated with the COVID-19 outbreak that may exacerbate student’s situation.