ASAT Responds to The National UAE’s, “Dubai mother campaigned for special needs centre guaranteeing a place for everyone”
January 19, 2017Source
Dear Ms. Sawy,
We would like to thank you for your educational and inspiring article titled, “Dubai mother campaigned for special needs centre guaranteeing a place for everyone.” Your article is not only motivating, but also very informative. You expose your readers to the challenges associated with the accessibility of autism-based treatment/education at an international level. Dubai is considered one of the wealthiest countries in the world (Malit Jr. & Al Youha, 2016). Some may assume that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) federal government places as much economic development on its educational facilities, specifically those for children with special needs, as it does on its commercial enterprises. However, your report of the shocking journey of Mrs. Attasi, a mother who campaigns for a special needs centre after having her son with autism rejected from 20 mainstream schools, is quite disheartening.
As highlighted in your article, many children with special needs in Dubai are not accepted into mainstream schools. Some of the reasons are that the schools are full or the cost is too high for the parents. Another major barrier that exists between children with special needs and mainstream schools is general education teachers’ attitudes towards children with moderate to severe disabilities. Many teachers do not express positive attitudes when it comes to learning how to teach children with special needs (Alghazo & Gaad, 2004). However, all general education teachers should have positive attitudes towards being trained in special education because all children deserve equal treatment in the classroom.
Opposite of those children that fall in the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum are the children that are much higher functioning. Children that are high functioning may excel in an academic subject, but lack the social skills to navigate successfully in their social environment (Tabrez, 2016). It is these children that often struggle the most in terms of acceptance into mainstream schools because although their disability is not severe, it is enough to prevent them from reaching their highest potential in school. You reported that too often, these children are left behind in this so called “grey area,” and are unable to access an appropriate and meaningful education within the school system. This issue is truly concerning to many parents and needs to be properly addressed by the UAE government.
In your article, you point out that several mainstream schools have made special needs inclusion a priority. Although there are steps being taken to better integrate children with autism into the classroom, there is still much more to be done. According to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (2015), an annual report was conducted in Dubai that reviewed 149 private schools. The report showed that there is reason to be concerned: the quality of programs in some of the schools has been regarded as poor (Ahmed, 2012). Poor quality programs are programs that lack a strong educational structure (Arif & Gaad, 2008). This means that the programs are not serving the purpose of properly educating the students in the schools. A school with poor quality programs is a school that has low school performance, weak teacher ratings, and inadequate curriculums (Ahmed, 2012). Many of these poor programs stem from other factors in the education system such as insufficient teacher training sessions and evaluation instruments for feedback on teacher performance, as well as ineffective teacher guides (Arif & Gaad, 2008). Schools with low quality programs are schools in which the lessons are not allowing students to achieve their highest learning potential by either being too easy or so difficult that the students cannot understand the material. In addition to low quality programming, there are not enough formally trained staff and/or appropriate staff-to-student ratios. According to research by the British University in Dubai, “Sixty-eight percent of teachers surveyed had negative feelings about teaching children with special needs” (Blatti, 2009, p. 8). The two main reasons were fear and a lack of training to help them handle the mentally and physically disabled (Swan, 2016, p. 2). Therefore, it is important that mainstream schools allocate resources to support the training of teachers in evidence-based strategies for supporting students with special needs, including autism.
Mrs. Attasi’s efforts to create this centre and make it a place where every child can learn is the right start. In the article, Mrs. Atassi says that eventually what she aims for is mainstreaming. This is a great goal to have for the centre however, it will be a goal that takes time due to some of the challenges that exist. One of the challenges is the many requirements needed to make it a mainstream school, such as prerequisite skills or standardized tests. Another challenge is the adjustment of the students transitioning from one-on-one instruction to group-based instruction. There are many factors to take into consideration when having children move from one-on-one instruction to group-based instruction. Some of these include the size of the group, method for student engagement, length of activities and reinforcement systems (Paranjape, 2011). It is important to take these issues into account because they can all affect student performance and ease of the transition. Despite these small hurdles, the centre can indeed thrive and set the example for change in Dubai.
Thank you again for sharing such an inspirational story and highlighting Dubai’s educational gap; a lack of treatment/education for children who do not “fit” the special needs or mainstream curricular categorizations. It is essential that these children have an instructional environment where they can learn at their own pace, while also being able to interact with children who share similar levels of intellectual development enabling them to receive the same educational opportunities as typically developing children. Mrs. Atassi’s story demonstrates that knowledge truly is power. The more that parents are informed about the resources and evidence-based instructional strategies available for their children, the more they can do to help them and to advocate for changes that will surely benefit the next generation of students with autism. Sometimes that means taking matters into one’s own hands, like Mrs. Atassi, and making all the difference.
Melina Morel, BA and Leanne Tull, MADS, BCBA
Association for Science in Autism Treatment
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