x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Film gives voice to special needs

While the Oscar-winning film The King's Speech highlighted the issue of those with speech problem, children still face challenges in getting treatment.

Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth in Tom Hooper's film The King's Speech.
Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth in Tom Hooper's film The King's Speech.

DUBAI // In the Oscar-winning film The King's Speech, the therapist Lionel Logue asks King George VI why he should waste his time listening to him.

The monarch, played by Colin Firth, thunders in response: "Because I have a right to be heard! I have a voice!"

That voice has struck a resounding note in the UAE, say professionals who treat speech problems. They say the film has boosted awareness of such problems but warn there are still many challenges to overcome.

The Dubai speech therapist Aalia Thobani asked a number of fellow professionals for their views on the effect of the film in the UAE.

"They said they hadn't seen an increase in numbers of patients because of The King's Speech, but it had definitely been useful in terms of raising awareness - and awareness is a really, really big thing," Ms Thobani says.

The film, which opened last year's Dubai International Film Festival, tells how the British king managed to overcome his stutter with the help of Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush.

The difficulties to treating speech problems in the Emirates include lack of support from schools for children with special needs, a shortage of qualified professionals, misdiagnosis of underlying causes, lack of research into the difficulties faced by the local population, and the reluctance of some parents to admit their children need help.

Early intervention is often missed because of limited parental and professional awareness of speech, language and learning milestones.

Ms Thobani, a Canadian raised in Dubai, works at the Infinity Health Clinic and is a speech language pathologist - a therapist with extra qualifications that enable her to diagnose conditions and treat them.

Many of her patients suffer from autism, language delays and difficulties in processing auditory information.

"As soon as you give a diagnosis to a school they go crazy on you," Ms Thobani says. "They tell you to go for some really expensive assessments and the support systems in a lot of the schools are not adequate."

She says a lack of qualified professionals means patients are frequently misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed.

"You don't really know if you're getting the right diagnosis, which delays obtaining the correct intervention in a timely manner," Ms Thobani says.

"There hasn't been a lot of research done in this area to actually pinpoint the specific issues faced by the local people or the Arabic-speaking population."

She says government action is needed to lift the level of help given to children with special needs, but adds: "It's also up to professionals like ourselves.

"Sometimes you can't rely solely on the government. Sometimes you have to form your own institutions and civil society has to take over, so I feel we have a heavy responsibility.

"We already get together at conferences and discuss these issues, but I think we must create more opportunities to talk and to figure out how we can expand and move forward."

A lack of support for children with special needs has been noted by Dubai's school inspectors.

This year's report by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) said: "Many parents of students with special education needs continue to experience very significant difficulties finding a place for their child in an appropriate school.

"Most private schools operate a process of selection, leaving parents with the difficult task of moving from school to school, paying fees for assessments and facing repeated rejection.

"A significant number of students are placed in schools where their teachers and senior staff lack qualifications and skills in educating students with special educational needs."

Jameela Al Muhairi, the chief of the bureau, says: "DSIB will look closely and report on special educational needs for all private schools in Dubai.

"For the forthcoming inspection cycle, inspectors will look at the progress of students with special needs across key subjects, how effective the school is in identifying students with special educational needs and how effectively parents are involved in the education of their children with special needs."

She says the inspectors will also examine how schools modify their curriculums to suit such students and how well schools monitor their progress.