x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Down Syndrome children need 'faster inclusion'

More than 200 parents and professionals attend Dubai conference to debate inclusion of children with Down Syndrome into mainstream schools.


Conference is told that all schoolchildren gain from integration

Bana Qabbani

dubai // Parents have called for faster implementation of school reforms after a two-day conference in Dubai that highlighted the need for the social inclusion of children with Down Syndrome.

At the conference, which concluded yesterday, research was presented to underline the need for the inclusion of Down Syndrome children in mainstream schools.

"We want people to recognise that human development is a socially driven exercise," said the guest speaker Professor Sue Buckley, director of science and research at the UK-based charity Down Syndrome Education International.

"It is the social interaction with everybody around us that shapes our development," she said. "There is inclusion in education, but there is inclusion in the community as a whole and so it is about changing attitudes to people with Down Syndrome so they are welcome in the clubs and activities other children go to."

More than 200 parents and professionals attended the conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The event, which was free to parents and professionals, was organised by the UAE volunteer support group All 4 Down's Syndrome.

Prof Buckley emphasised the importance of setting high expectations for children and providing parents with early intervention services. "All children are influenced by their opportunities to learn. Just like any other child, what is achieved depends on the quality of what is offered to them," she said.

A fellow guest speaker Rebecca Baxter, who is a speech and language therapist at Down Syndrome Education International, said schools needed to have the right amount of support and training, because they are likely to do a more successful job when those two factors are fulfilled. "Children who are in an inclusive setting tend to do a lot better. We want each individual to meet their own potential at whatever rate they can with the right support," said Ms Baxter.

Sally Pearson, one of the volunteer group's coordinators, said that inclusion benefits the whole school. She cited her personal experience as the parent of a son with Down Syndrome.

"Schools have this idea that it will bring their standards down if they have a child with special needs, but in fact the end result is actually a much happier school, more rounded students and high achievers all the same," said Mrs Pearson, who is a UK expatriate.

Rebecca Corley, who has a 12-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome enrolled at a mainstream school, spoke about the benefits of early intervention.

"The younger we start, the better because young children do not see a child with Down Syndrome on the playground, they just see another kid," said Mrs Corley, who is also a UK expatriate. Mrs Corley, who coodinated the conference, said she would like to see a more up-to-date approach on inclusion and early intervention.

Rabee Yousef, from Palestine, said he was having a difficult time placing his five-year-old son in a mainstream school. "There is a contradiction between the law that was drawn out last year and its implementation," said Mr Yousef. "Each condition should be assessed individually but the reality is very different. What I hope for today is the serious implementation of the current inclusion law across all schools."

Another parent who faced the same situation decided it would be best to send her 20-year-old son to a school in England so that he could receive age-appropriate training. Rouya Jawad, who is a UAE citizen, said: "There is so little awareness about the importance of inclusion. What we need is a proper system in place so that even young adults can be trained to take on jobs some day."