x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Emirati mother tells of autism struggle

Ten years after she was born, six years after doctors gave the diagnosis and seven years before her parents have to think about her higher education, life in the UAE has become easier for Najia Hassan's daughter Roudha.

“I don’t feel embarrassment now when I go with her anywhere in Dubai, ” says Najla Hassan, mother of Roudha Hassan, 10, right, a girl with autism. Christopher Pike / The National
“I don’t feel embarrassment now when I go with her anywhere in Dubai, ” says Najla Hassan, mother of Roudha Hassan, 10, right, a girl with autism. Christopher Pike / The National

DUBAI // Ten years after she was born, six years after doctors gave the diagnosis and seven years before her parents have to think about her higher education, life in the UAE has become easier for Roudha Hassan.

"The difficulty ... now I feel it's changed," said her mother, Najla Hassan.

"The community, they know more about autism. Before, when Roudha was five years old, kids with autism - when they are walking in a certain place sometimes they are screaming, feeling anger - you could see the people looking at you," said the Emirati mother-of-five.

Trying to calm down a young child with autism would often result in the family feeling as if they had done something wrong, said Mrs Hassan, whose family spent three years trying to find out what was causing delays in their daughter's development.

"When you would try to console her, sometimes, you ended up with everyone looking at you like you were punishing her."

While the community in Dubai has become more aware, she said, there is still a lack of knowledge in other emirates.

"The people in Dubai, they have more knowledge about special-needs children. Even Dubai Police, they called us and took information. In case of any emergency they know of Roudha's problem."

Mrs Hassan's second-youngest child also receives a discount when going to play areas in certain Dubai malls.

Gluten-free foods, which some studies have found to lower the symptoms of autism in children, are also more readily available.

"Gluten-free food, sugar-free toothpaste ... all these things; it is much easier than before. It is costly but at least you can get it," Mrs Hassan said.

But support in other areas for families dealing with autism, is still lacking.

"As a strong group, effective group, no, we don't have it in Dubai, unfortunately," she said.

The UAE also needs to open up more specialised centres - and at a reasonable price, said Mrs Hassan.

"We need more centres for children with autism because the number available is not enough. A lot of children are waiting."

The family's insurance does not cover Roudha's care at Dubai Autism Centre but the centre is a much cheaper option than going private, added her mother.

Cost aside, for the time being - the family worry about what care their daughter will receive once she reaches the age where she has to leave the centre - life has become more normal, said Mrs Hassan.

"I don't feel embarrassment now when I go with her anywhere in Dubai."

zalhassani@thenational.ae