Future Centre for Special Needs has launched its inaugural UAE-wide Skills Challenge 2013, a competition on May 15 and 16 that will invite 130 special-needs children from centres across the UAE to compete on vocational skills.
Let games begin in Abu Dhabi special-needs house of smiles
ABU DHABI // Six young pupils fill the classroom with a rousing rendition of the nursery rhyme Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.
In another room, a boy bangs out rhythms on his drums, while down the corridor a group of girls burst from a mock-up kitchen where they have been learning to bake.
Laughter fills the halls at the Future Centre for Special Needs in Abu Dhabi.
"Every school day is a happy day," says its director, Dr Mowfaq Mustafa. "It is the first thing people notice when they come. All of the pupils are smiling. Even the staff are smiling."
And the 183 pupils now have an extra reason to grin.
The centre, in Mohammed Bin Zayed City, has launched its UAE-wide Skills Challenge 2013, a competition set for May 15 and 16.
The event will invite 130 special-needs children to compete in vocational skills such as poster design, word processing, acrylic painting, wood carving and basket weaving.
Pupils with a range of disabilities will contest 12 categories, and there is growing excitement at the Future Centre ahead of the competition.
For best friends Till White, 14, and Eid Al Shamsi, 17, it is a chance to work together and show off their poster-making talents.
Till, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, grins when asked if he is enjoying preparing for the event: "Yeah, because it gets me out of doing maths."
"Also, if I win, my dad is going to let me shoot some rounds," Till says, explaining that one of his favourite hobbies is going with his father to a shooting club on weekends.
He and Eid, who has mild autism, plan to make a 3D poster celebrating the UAE.
The centre supports children with disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, physical disorders, hearing impairments, rare genetic syndromes and speech and language disorders.
Dr Mustafa says the event will be the first time special-needs children in the UAE have the chance to show their skills.
"To our eyes, this is our most important event," he says. "We invited all centres in the UAE for those that have skills and talent to come and show us.
"We wanted all the centres to teach the students skills, to discover the talent of each student and make them compete with other students, to make them work at something like this.
"Everybody, in the end, is a winner. Why? Because everybody has learnt a lot."
Launched in 2000, the non-profit Future Centre for Special Needs aims to advance the education of children and young adults.
One of the main aims of its 93 teachers is vocational training, to help their pupils develop their skills, find jobs and ensure their future.
Pupils have to go to maths, computing and science classes, but they can also take part in activities that include helping to run an on-site, non-profit grocery store that teaches them the importance of money.
Other classes help them to learn about the day-to-day running of a household.
Teaching the children vocational skills is crucial in helping them to become independent adults, says Dr Mustafa.
The centre has so far has helped to integrate 75 pupils into full-time employment, including work at a lawyer's office, in construction, finance and a restaurant.