Although efforts are underway to include include special needs children in mainstream school, many lack the resources and trained staff needed.
New centre for children with special needs to open in Dubai
DUBAI // Dalya Tabari believes her eight-year-old son is a success story. Her family could afford to take him to the US to have his attention deficit disorder treated and he is doing well.
But that has not stopped the occasional worries.
"Every once in a while I have a nightmare and wake up and think, what if we weren't able to support him?" Ms Tabari said.
It is for such families she and Nof Al Mazrui are setting up The Developing Child Centre.
The centre will serve children with learning differences or special needs whose parents do not have access to or cannot afford help. It is scheduled to open in February in Umm Suqeim.
Ms Tabari and Ms Al Mazrui aim to keep the waiting list short, and the centre's profits will go towards financial aid.
"We want everybody to access quality services," said Ms Al Mazrui. "Every child deserves that."
The centre will offer evaluations and diagnoses and an individualised education programme for children under the age of six.
It will provide extra support including occupational, behavioural and speech therapy, and tutoring up to the age of 18 to help youths succeed in mainstream schools.
Although efforts are under way to include special-needs students in mainstream schools, many lack the resources and trained teachers needed.
"Ideally, the children should get the services they need inside the school and if there is additional work to be done at home, it should be in the family," said Prof Eman Gaad, dean of the education faculty at The British University in Dubai.
"However, because we do have a lack of support systems in [schools] … obviously we welcome any additional help that can be offered to parents."
Ms Al Mazrui and Ms Tabari believe there is high demand for their services, especially for "grey zone" children who do not have severe disabilities but still need support.
Some of the existing special-needs centres have long waiting lists.
"We were lucky and space opened," said Viviane Huion, whose 13-year-old son has autism and attends the Future Centre for Special Needs in Abu Dhabi. "But I heard from several friends that sometimes there are years for waiting lists."
Because her son cannot speak, Ms Huion, from the Netherlands, believes the separate school is his only option.
"These spaces are very precious and, of course, we're paying for it," she said. "I will keep this space as long as I can."
One programme with no waiting list is the Child Early Intervention Medical Centre in Dubai, which provides therapies and other services to children with autism.
But even if a parent can secure a place, some cannot afford it, said Dr Hibah Shata, the centre's co-founder.
"The fees of treatment in private centres are high," Dr Shata said. "It's not because private centres are trying to make a lot of money out of it. It's because the service is very costly.
"People specialised in the field are very expensive. The parents feel frustrated."
Ms Tabari and Ms Al Mazrui hope that putting their profits in their "Hibah" - or gift - fund will ease the burden.
"It will help subsidise the costs of the therapies and services for families who need financial aid," Ms Tabari said. "People could actually apply for grants."
They aim to have the fund ready by 2014. They are also interested in expanding beyond Dubai.
"For as long as the demand is there, we will keep opening centres in every emirate," Ms Tabari said. "So no one ever feels the waiting list is so long they can't get in the door."
Dr Shata said: "Dubai is an area that has a lot of centres now trying to work with children who have autism. But places like Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman - they are still so much deprived of services."