x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

As many as 80 people took part in the 12-week Ta’alouf course, hosted by the Al Jalila Foundation, which was set up in order to plug a perceived gap in the education of parents over the rights of their special needs children.

Khalid Almuhairi at the awards ceremony for the Ta'aloufi project run by the Al Jalila Foundation to educate parents about how to work with their special needs children. Antonie Robertson/The National
Khalid Almuhairi at the awards ceremony for the Ta'aloufi project run by the Al Jalila Foundation to educate parents about how to work with their special needs children. Antonie Robertson/The National

DUBAI // Parents of special-needs kids completed a course on how to look after their children, with many saying it helped change their attitudes towards disability.

As many as 80 people took part in the 12-week Ta’alouf course, hosted by the Al Jalila Foundation, which was set up to plug a perceived gap in the education of parents over the rights of their special-needs children.

The course, which was held in English and Arabic, was attended by 19 different nationalities.

“Kids don’t come with a manual,” said Liz Wallace-Safari, 42, from Ireland, who graduated from the programme on Sunday.

“Everyone says that as a parent you’ll know what to do when the eventuality comes. I’m sorry to say that the majority of people don’t know what to do. This course teaches you a lot about that, and much more too.”

Ms Wallace-Safari said the course had changed her attitudes towards her four-year-old son, Dara, who is autistic. “Before the course I saw him as primarily autistic,” she said. “Everything that he’d do, I’d say he’s doing that because he’s autistic. Now, I just see him as my son. He is autistic, but it doesn’t define him.”

The course was held on Saturdays for Arabic speakers and Mondays for English speakers at the British University in Dubai. It featured lectures, group discussion and homework, and featured children of all ages and of all disabilities.

Dr Abdulkareem Sultan al Olama, chief executive of the Al Jalila Foundation, said the programme was set up to guide parents.

“They hear some advice from one person, and other advice from someone else. They’re lost and they don’t know what to do. We want to provide expert advice as well as support from other parents.”

It is the second time the programme has run. The first course was run between October and January this year, but only in Arabic.

Dr Al Olama said the course was free and open to expatriates as well as nationals. “It’s open to everyone living in the UAE regardless of where they’re from,” he said. “If parents manage to convert that special-needs child into a productive member of society, you’re doing a great service to the community.”

It is hoped that 800 parents will graduate from the programme by 2018. There are estimated to be about 6,000 children with special needs in Dubai alone.

The Al Jalila Foundation was set up to promote good health in the community and also offers scholarships and fellowship funding for Emiratis and expatriates pursuing further studies in medical research.

The education partner for the Ta’alouf course was the British University in Dubai. Prof Abdullah Alshamsi, vice chancellor for the university, said: “The feedback we are getting from parents is tremendous; it is clear that they are more confident and better equipped to face their challenges.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae