DUBAI // Pupils at The Elite English School spent the morning swapping stories about their holidays.
The Indian curriculum school is among a handful of institutions in the Emirates to admit children with learning difficulties, speech problems and mild autism and integrate them in mainstream classes.
"I went to the Philippines and there was a typhoon and a big river in the road," said Joseph, an 11-year-old with special needs.
"Sometimes, many times, there were leaks in the house."
Attendance was low on the first day of school yesterday with many children scheduled to return to the Emirates during the week.
Teachers say the first few days back are focused on helping pupils adjust to a fixed schedule.
"We have to help them get over their holiday hangover," said Vatsala Mathai, the principal. "Children are still in the holiday mood so we begin by asking them about their holidays before we get back to studies."
The school has four classrooms where 45 children with special needs are taught subjects such as language, social studies and science.
After a year in the special needs section, 15 pupils have been moved to mainstream classes.
The classroom walls are covered with photographs of the children gardening and playing together.
"Integration is a little difficult for the children in the beginning but it is a great learning process," said Dhania Suraj, a teacher.
"Once they are in the mainstream classes, it is a huge difference for them. And they build friendships that are so vital for both sides."
In another class, Adith, 12, said he visited his great-grandmother's home in Kerala. His classmate Kurt spoke of baking vanilla cupcakes with his mother.
"I like holidays most, but I want to come back to school, I want to study. I want to go to higher classes to learn more," said Adith, a pupil with special needs who attends English and maths classes with grade five pupils in mainstream classes.
The school says it requires further support with better equipment, smart boards, laboratories, computers and teaching aids. This would help to fully integrate the special needs children with the 900 pupils in mainstream classes, which follow the Central Board of Secondary Education curriculum.
"Each child is different, so individual programmes must be made for each student," said Heena Jaisingh, a teacher heading the special needs section. "Our objective is to develop their skills, concentrate on them here and then integrate them subject-wise depending on their level of functioning. It's also good for the other students because it grows their level of understanding and acceptance."