About 7.5 million Syrian children and adolescents are currently in need of support due to conflict, more than half of whom show signs of mental and emotional distress (UNHCR). While many refugees show immense resilience in the face of these challenges, we also know that far too many children experience major disruption in their development. If left untreated, it can cause mental, emotional, and physiological issues that follow them throughout their lives. Providing mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) to young people is an essential part of the long-term recovery of the next generation of Syria.
Of the MHPSS services currently available to young Syrians, most focus on psychological issues resulting from the decade of conflict such as bereavement, PTSD, depression and anxiety. Other services focus on specific issues of living in a humanitarian context by addressing disruptions in education, social support systems and opportunities for growth. These are essential services, and there is no doubt about the importance of the implementation of these programs and the considerable impact they have on the beneficiaries. And yet, the mental health needs of Syrians encompass much more than the symptoms resulting from war. Mental illness did not start in 2011 and a number of Syrians entered the crisis with pre-existing disorders such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other conditions. Also included are those born with intellectual and developmental disabilities that affect their ability to learn, reason, solve problems and adapt to new situations.
One example is autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which affects about one in 270 people (WHO, 2020). Children with ASD can be disproportionately affected by war as they often have limited communication, a lack of expressive language, and a difficult time adjusting to transitions. In conflict and crisis situations, they may respond by withdrawing, experiencing worsening symptoms, or becoming increasingly aggressive. Children with autism often need special care and extra support to help them cope with the situation and cope with the many changes and uncertainties they face.
SAMS recognizes the needs of Syrian children with ASD and works to provide them with the support they need to restore a sense of normalcy in their lives. With funding from the US Department of State’s Office of Population, Refugees and Migration, SAMS is partnering with Take My Hand Social Assistance Association in Istanbul to provide specialized behavioral support services to Syrian refugee children with autism. The program uses an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) approach to provide these young people with development and learning sessions tailored to their specific needs. This includes sessions on expressive speech, self-care, play, gross and fine motor skills, imitation, literacy, and integrative sensory therapy. This program currently serves 59 Syrian refugee children with autism.
The program also provides additional support to parents of children with ASD, who face the extremely difficult task of caring for a child with special needs while also dealing with their own reaction to grief and grief. the loss. SAMS helps ease the burden by offering one-on-one counseling, self-care activities, psychosocial support services and autism awareness workshops. All of these services can be continued amid the COVID-19 pandemic through the use of a phone app that helps caregivers use the ABA approach with their children at home while receiving follow-up support program staff.
Syrian refugee children continue to bear the brunt of the decade-long conflict while suffering indescribable trauma and violence. We can all do something to support these children. The need to invest in mental health is paramount to rebuilding Syria. If you would like to know more about the center and how to support it, please contact us at [email protected]