x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Al Jalila Foundation empowers parents of special-needs children

The foundation’s Ta’alouf programme has started its first batch of 55 parents on a 12-week course.

DUBAI // Four hundred parents whose children have special needs are to be offered training courses on specialist care and education.

The 12-week course aims to empower those raising youngsters with disabilities and has been launched as part of Al Jalila Foundation’s Ta’alouf programme.

The first batch of 55 parents took part in their initial session at the British University in Dubai today.

Al Jalila Foundation, a global philanthropic organisation dedicated to transforming lives through medical education and research, has committed to training 400 parents of all nationalities over four years.

“Our aim is to improve the quality of life for special-needs people by empowering their parents,” said Prof Eman Gaad, dean of the faculty of education at the university, who designed the course.

“The information covered in the course can be helpful to all parents, not just those of children with special needs.”

Dr Abdulkareem Al Olama, chief executive of Al Jalila Foundation, said: “This training is deeply rooted in our premise that learning is not only confined to the classroom because, even at home, children are in a continuous process of intellectual growth in which parental engagement is essential.

“This parent-centred course will allow parents to be more perceptive in interpreting their children’s behavioural cues, thus making the learning process more interactive.”

Dr Al Olama said the course was launched after the foundation received numerous calls from parents asking about training.

“The university believes that all students, including those with disabilities and special learning needs, are entitled to an excellent education,” said Prof Abdullah Al Shamsi, the institution’s vice chancellor.

“Equipping parents with the tools and knowledge required to provide their children with a genuine opportunity to succeed is a vital part of this educational success.

“Special programmes such as this are necessary in our community – society needs to learn how to interact with people with special needs.”

Prof Al Shamsi said one of the aims of the course was to create a forum for parents and families to communicate, interact and learn from each other and the feelings of shame linked to those with special needs must change.

“Special-needs people get isolated in society. It is nobody’s fault that this child was born the way he is. That is what we hope to change with this forum – we are aiming for a holistic inclusion into society for these children,” he said.

“There is no need to be ashamed,” agreed Fatima Nasser, mother of Moza, 6.

Moza was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, a rare multi-system genetic disease that causes non-malignant tumours to grow in the brain which, in most cases, can meet the diagnostic criteria for autism.

“There needs to be programmes for the whole family, not only the parents,” she said. “My husband, Hatem, has been very supportive and has participated in many projects and programmes.”

Prof Gaad said: “The parents who were here today varied from those who are illiterate to those with doctorates.

“It is rare to see people from all clusters come together like this, I’m very proud.

“There is no manual for parenthood but for parents of children with special needs, there should be a manual,” said Prof Gaad.

Umm Abdulla, who has an autistic child and volunteers at the Emirates Autism Society, said there are not enough centres for special needs and the ones that do exist have large waiting lists.

“I get two or more calls a week at the centre from parents who are asking for help. We need more complete and comprehensive centres for these families,” she said.

Her son, whose condition was diagnosed when he was 2, is now 10 and Umm Abdulla has him in mainstream schooling and involves him in regular childhood activities.

“You have to understand that if you have a child with special needs, that is your life. You must dedicate all your time for that child,” she said.

“I would recommend that, if you are financially able to, one parent should stay at home to care for the child full-time.”

malkhan@thenational.ae