SHARJAH // Arfeen Fatima watches her five-year-old son intently, clapping in encouragement as he sways slightly in a secure harness and throws a ball into a net.
Children such as little Mujtaba need more help than most to lead a full life.
That sort of help was provided yesterday when cash raised by the Australia New Zealand Association and by expatriates at an iftar last month was handed over to Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS) to buy special exercise shoes and physiotherapy equipment.
The Dh13,500 will also be used for teaching aids and go towards an autism centre at SCHS, a non-government initiative that runs early-intervention programmes and conducts workshops in carpentry and handicraft.
It is also involved in community outreach as part of its aim to change society's attitude towards people with disabilities.
About 2,000 children with mental and physical disabilities, from the Emirates and other countries, are taught different skills each year in individually tailored programmes at SCHS.
Mujtaba suffers from hypotonia, impaired muscle tone that results in reduced muscle strength. Early intervention and three years of sustained physiotherapy at SCHS have helped him to sit up on his own, and crawl and walk with his mother's help.
For Mrs Fatima, a Pakistani national who was born in Dubai, the change in her son is evident. Mujtaba now attends kindergarten at a Dubai school where his brother, 8, also studies.
"Mentally he is perfectly all right. He picks up the things I'm teaching my elder son," says Mrs Fatima. "But when he was small he would just lay still. He couldn't turn on his side or sit and his neck was not stable.
"They [SCHS teachers] have really helped us. They have taught us not to help him all the time but to leave him alone to learn."
On advice from SCHS trainers, the family did not buy a wheelchair but encouraged Mujtaba to walk.
"I am very hopeful he will start to walk, first with a walker and then without," Mrs Fatima says. "The teachers here have even helped with discipline because, though we do try at home, he starts learning here."
The centre also promotes advocacy and inclusion at every level.
"The centre has been running since 1979 and we are still growing," says Sheikha Jameela bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the director general of SCHS.
"We teach the children to say what they want and feel. We feel self-advocacy is very important as we want our students to practise their rights to choose and have a say in whatever concerns them."
The care aid givers shower and the centre's goal of making the children independent triggered the expatriates' decision to help.
"The training given to the children challenges them and takes them beyond their limitations," says Janet Bryan, the Australia New Zealand Association chairman.
"It treats them as normal children in their own school. Our support will be ongoing."
Jan Senior, the head of primary at the Victoria International School of Sharjah, says it is heartening to watch the children learn through play.
"The key goal that the children should be independent is very important," says Ms Senior.
"They gain a sense of responsibility in achievements like dressing themselves, and then the onus is off their carers and their parents."
This sense of pride is visible in Ragad Khalid, 12.
The Jordanian special-needs student plays teacher for a while, standing by a whiteboard facing six classmates, some in wheelchairs. Ragad softly calls out the six-times table and nods delighted when they get it right.
In another room, a group of girls hunch over green and beige beads they carefully string into bracelets and necklaces.
The brightly coloured red and yellow-topped wooden furniture used by the students are built by boys with special needs in a nearby carpentry workshop.