by Dhanusha Gokulan from the Khaleej Times:
Ghada Omar, mother of a one-year-old with Down syndrome is extremely active on Facebook and other social networking websites. Omar’s statuses and updates revolve around her need to find information about her son Hassan’s condition. The boy was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.
Apart from looking for support groups online, Omar seeks to raise awareness and gather information about special needs kids through social media. “When Hassan was born I was completely ignorant. I did not think that something like this would happen to us, especially since our family has no history of Down syndrome. But discovering that my child has Down syndrome turned by life 360 degrees. It tests you as a parent on so many levels,” said Omar.
A working mother, Omar has been scouring the internet for help on the syndrome. “The saving grace was when I was introduced to other mothers in the Parents of Down syndrome Association here in Dubai. The best way to learn about such cases is by communicating with other parents,” she said. Omar is only one among the hundreds of mothers who are seeking support and information on Down syndrome. Experts suggest that even though the UAE has come a long way in raising awareness and creating support for them, the society at large is still very ignorant on ‘how to address needs of special needs families’.
“It is the parent who suffers more than the child. The most difficult task is finding acceptance, especially in schools, nurseries, and other places that is frequented by mainstream society,” said Jordanian national and parent of a child with Down syndrome, Rana Saadah. Parents also say that doctors in most hospitals have a very indifferent outlook towards Down syndrome cases.
Behavioural training for parents
In a bid to help parents of special needs children, Al Jalila Foundation announced the launch of its Ta’alouf Parents Training on Saturday, which is aimed at providing life-changing skills to parents of children with special needs. The first phase of the programme is being organised at the British University in Dubai, Dubai Academic City. The 12-week course provides behavioural training for these parents to empower them with life-changing skills.
The course is being conducted in collaboration with the British University in Dubai (BUiD), the Middle East’s first research-based postgraduate university, and is designed and led by professor Eman Gaad, dean of the Faculty of Education and the head of the Doctoral Programme at BUiD.
About 58 parents have registered for the programme. Prof Gaad said: “The main aim is to involve children into mainstream society and empower parents as well. An empowered parent is an empowered child.” Established by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Al Jalila Foundation is committed to fostering a unified and inclusive society where parents, educators, strategic partners and the wider community work together to empower children with disabilities.
The first 12-week professional course includes 55 parents of children with varying special needs and will cover a range of professional behavioural skills that will allow parents to better address their children’s needs. Among the participants are Sonia Al Hashimi, Chairperson of the UAE Down Syndrome Association, and Fatima Rashed Al Matrooshi, Chairperson of the Emirates Autism Society.
Making the learning process more interactive
Dr Abdulkareem Al Olama, CEO 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.”
Sonia Al Hashimi, Chairperson of the UAE Down Syndrome Association, added: “Parents face challenges, stigmas and alienation and they need support that will enable them to be better equipped to assimilate information and act on behalf of their children. Increasingly, communities are recognising the critical need for inclusion – these courses are providing that necessary bridge between parents and school.”