Published: 12 April 2016

Becoming an Expert: Dr Usman Hamdani on autism treatment in Pakistan

Dr Usman Hamdani (top left) and the Family Networks for Kids (FaNs) team

As part of his PhD Dr Usman Hamdani, an international student based at Human Development Research Foundation in Islamabad, Pakistan, is embedded within a Grand Challenges Canada funded project to develop, implement and evaluate an integrated model of service delivery for developmental disorders (autism, intellectual disabilities) in low resource settings.

“As in many low-income countries, the treatment gap for developmental disorders such as autism in rural Pakistan is near 100%. My colleagues and I have integrated social, technological, and business innovations to develop and pilot a potentially sustainable service for children with developmental disorders in a rural area.

“Families with developmental disorders were identified through a mobile phone–based interactive voice response system, and organized into ‘Family Networks.’ ‘Champion’ family volunteers were trained in evidence-based interventions.

“As part of my research I have helped to develop an Avatar-assisted Cascade Training and information system to assist with training, implementation, monitoring, and supervision.

Family network

“In a population of approximately 30,000, we successfully established one self-sustaining Family Network consisting of ten trained champion family volunteers working under supervision of specialists, providing intervention to 70 families of children with developmental disorders.

“Each champion was responsible for training and providing ongoing support to five to seven families from his or her village, and the families supported each other in management of their children.

“A pre-post evaluation of the program indicated that there was significant improvement in disability and socioemotional difficulties in the child, reduction in stigmatizing experiences, and greater family empowerment to seek services and community resources for the child.

Autism Speaks

“We have now been awarded a transition to scale grant from Grand Challenges Canada and Autism Speaks USA to scale up the model to a million population in rural Pakistan, where we would be working to empower 3000 families and children with developmental disorders in rural Pakistan.

“To replicate this service more widely, a social franchise model is being developed whereby the integrated intervention will be “boxed” up and passed on to others to replicate with appropriate support.”

Image shows Dr Usman Hamdani (top left) and the Family Networks for Kids (FaNs) team.

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