x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Disabled children live with terror and guilt

Children with disabilities are at high risk of abuse because they are often unable to express what happened to them.

Abu Dhabi // Children with disabilities are at high risk of abuse because they are often unable to express what happened to them, experts say. "Disabled children have no voice and when they are abused they can't do anything about it," said Dr Saroj Thapa, the president of the Society for Advocacy and Awareness for Holistic Inclusion and a special-needs educator.

"Many of them live through the terror, guilt and nightmare of it their whole lives without being able to talk about it." All of the emirates have facilities for children with special needs, but many parents choose not to use them. They feel the embarrassment of having a child with a disability is too great, officials said, and many would rather deal with the problem themselves than open their family to scrutiny.

"There are a lot of people who try to hide it," Dr Thapa said. "The stigma of this is such an entrenched thing in this community that to be able to face it and come out in public is a very brave thing to do." The UAE has the sixth-highest rate in the world of children born with genetics defects. No statistics are available on the number of these children who are abused. Dr Mahmoud al Shathli, a psychologist with the Zayed Higher Organization for Humanitarian Care Special Needs and Minors Affairs, said parents sometimes spend years trying to find a treatment for their children's disabilities, which often have no cure.

"They are angry that there is no solution," he said. The stigma of many disorders can prevent parents from getting support. Parents who do not understand cognitive developmental problems often think their children are misbehaving, when, in fact, the children have no control over their actions. "We cannot work with a handicapped child as we can work with a normal child," Dr al Shathli said. "Parents should get help from each other, from the doctors, from social workers, from psychologists on how to work with a child with a handicap."

While most children can be left alone for certain periods of time, to do homework or play, this is not possible for many children with disabilities. "There are instances where frustration does set in and the response to that is not what it should be, especially when there is a demanding physical condition or behavioural condition," said Isphana al Khatib, the director of Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs.

"We take tangible steps to contain the practice. We watch for behaviour that indicates abuse and then we do bring parents in and discuss the matter with them." Sexual abuse is also a concern for children with cognitive disabilities, who may not understand what is happening. "We run a special program to give children the knowledge of the difference between the genders and what is inappropriate behaviour, how to report something that is not appropriate and how to conduct themselves socially so they don't give out the wrong messages," Ms al Khatib said.