Dubai, UAE: Teachers have joined a growing number of parents who have graduated from free courses to help integrate special needs children into mainstream schools.
Funded by the Al Jalila Foundation, the first Ta’alouf programme closed with 63 teachers equipped to help children with learning difficulties.
The programme was established in partnership with Zayed University and supported by the Ministry of Education and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.
Briton Rachel Green, a teacher at the School of Research Sciences in Mirdif, is a former special needs adviser in the UK and was one of the first graduates.
“We wanted to take on what we were already doing, but do it better,” she said. “I wasn’t able to implement what I had learned in the UK as it is a very different culture here.”
The understanding between teachers and parents can vary widely, Mrs Green said.
“The most important part of the course for me was working with parents. It taught me their perspective and how I can get them on board. Some don’t believe their child is entitled to help, others are very demanding. Schools have to be inclusive now, and there is no hiding from it.”
So far, 329 parents and carers have joined Ta’alouf, at a cost of Dh3 million to the foundation.
Ashraf Mohammed Shaheen, a senior flight steward with Emirates who lives in Sharjah, contemplated taking his daughter Roqaya, 4, back to Egypt because of long waiting lists for special school places.
He has since completed the Ta’alouf course and has seen a noticeable improvement in his autistic daughter‘s behaviour.
“Roqaya was growing up normally but began to regress after 24 months,” he said. “A therapist in Egypt said she had Down syndrome, then autism. I was frustrated and frightened for her.”
Roqaya was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, a rare autism mainly affecting girls. She has been attending sessions to improve her speech and development at the Rashid Centre for the Disabled in Al Barsha.
Her parents now help her at home with breathing exercises and trampolining to improve her co-ordination.
“The social response to her condition here in the UAE has been tough,” Mr Shaheen, 30, said. “We would like to see her attend a mainstream school, but we know it will be difficult. Schools either say they do not have enough specially trained teachers, or just don’t accept children like Roqaya.
“We have learnt to manage her self injury and biting that she would do out of frustration. There has been a big improvement in the last six months.”
The foundation has worked with the British University in Dubai to develop the Ta’alouf curriculum. The next intake of teachers will be in October.
Dr Abdulkareem Al Olama, Al Jalila Foundation’s chief executive, said the skills taught are easily transferable.
“The impact these teachers can make is what keeps us going,” he said. “It is our problem that we do not know how to deal with these children in the right way, it is not the child’s fault. We welcome anyone to take on this material, it is free and would love to see it on a national level.”
© The National