A Different Way Of Learning: What Qatar Has To Offer Those With Special Needs
So far, 2013 has thrown me in the deep end of figuring out schooling for my three year old. A year ago we were worried about potty training, day-time naps and introducing different foods, now we are wading through admission forms, information packs and school fee structures. Through all of this I got to thinking about how much more difficult it could be to find a suitable institution if you are a parent to a child who has special learning requirements. So I went in search of people who were willing to share their experiences with others in the hopes of providing support to those facing similar challenges in Doha.
Katherine*, mother to a six-year-old boy who is autistic, says it took many wrong turns before she found the right avenue. Living in Doha for five years, Katherine is quite seasoned in the facilities available to children with learning difficulties. As an early-childhood educator, she has the added bonus of being more attuned to education and learning than the rest of us. Her son currently attends the Step by Step Centre for Special Needs, an environment she believes embraces his abilities, makes him feel valued and where he is encouraged to meet his full potential. Additionally, Step by Step provides a support group for the parents of children who attend the school. A special emphasis is placed on involving parents in their children’s education, and the school’s ethos is that children can only progress where mums, dads and teachers work together as a team. “The support group is a good starting point, here you can meet different parents with different challenges and you will be able to avoid the pitfalls by following their advice” she says.
Additionally, Katherine also suggests that parents attend a support group called ‘Out of Sync’ – a network of parents of children with any form of ‘special needs’ or ‘differences’. The Out of Sync Network has monthly meet-ups where parents can feel comfortable enough to confidentially share information and resources. The network is administered by Doha Mums, but non-members are welcome to join as well. A child’s learning challenges may range from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to Dyslexia to Autism to Down’s Syndrome – from mild to severe cases; it is a space where everyone is welcome.
Whilst it is important to gain support, it is equally important to recognise that all children are different and that the scale of their challenges differs as well. If you suspect that your child is having difficulty in learning, it is best to consult a child psychologist or therapist to gain a proper diagnosis.[boxify cols_use =”1″ cols =”2″ position =”right” order =”none” box_spacing =”10″ padding =”10″ background_color =”#3c3c3c” border_style =”solid” ]
- The Out of Sync Network is open to any parents living in or moving to Doha. The network meets once a month to enable parents of children with learning challenges to meet, discuss and share resources in Doha. For more information visit bigtent.com/groups/outofsync or dohamums.com
- The Step By Step Centre for Special Needs provides programmes for children who are faced with communication or speech and language impairments, Autism and other developmental disorders, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD), Cerebral Palsy, as well as multiple and complex learning disabilities. For more information visit: stepbystepqatar.com
- Mada is a non-profit organisation that connects people with learning challenges and difficulties to information and communication technology. Mada was established by the Supreme Council for Information and Communication Technology. By providing access to assistive technologies in schools, learning institutions, workplaces and homes in Qatar, adults and children are able to work, learn and connect with peers from around the world. Visit mada.org.qa/en
Other institutions include:
- Awsaj Academy, a specialist school serving children with learning challenges from Grades 1-12. tlc.edu.qa
- Shafallah Centre for Children with Special Needs: shafallah.org.qa
- Hope Qatar, a private non-profit training centre for children with special needs. hope-qatar.org
And while diagnosis is a good first step, the hurdle for many parents to overcome is acceptance. Sara*, a mum of two children whose teenage son has Semantic Pragmatic Language Disorder, an impairment related to Asperger’s Syndrome, says that many parents she has met are in denial. In the ten years she has been living in Doha, she has found that plenty of stigma still surrounds children and adults with learning difficulties. “You need diagnosis, life is more complicated than before – it’s not easier. Most times people think the child is not trying his best, or he doesn’t have it in him, but it’s not that he can’t, he is not able. I realised that I have to find all the resources available to help my child, I have to do this for my child” she says.
It is at the American Community School (ACS) where Sara found a haven of support and an excellent curriculum that adapts to meet her child’s needs. The ACS Learning Support Programme helps students with mild learning difficulties advance in a mainstream school environment. Here children are taught self-awareness, confidence and independent study habits that help them achieve success in their academic coursework. Support is provided through specialised instructional sessions in mathematics and literacy and distinctive study hall and homework-club opportunities for scholars.
There is a lesson here for all – no matter what your child’s learning abilities may be. In order to succeed academically, parents need to be actively involved in their children’s education. “Keeping in close contact with your child’s teacher is important to monitor how your child is doing in the classroom setting. I would monitor the work that your child is bringing home and how they are grasping the concepts that are being taught,” says Melissa Tantibanchachai, a special education teacher from the United States. “I think one of the most important things you can do to help your child’s development is to read to them. Starting from the time they are toddlers always take the time to read to them and don’t stop just because they can read to themselves. As they get older they still benefit from being read to.”
And bringing learning into the home is where the Qatar government has stepped up especially. Meet Mada: the Qatar Assistive Technology Centre. Mada is a non-profit organisation that works to provide access to information and communication technologies, for children and adults with learning or physical challenges. Mada was established in 2010 by the Supreme Council for Information and Communication Technology. It is a public-private partnership between the government, Ooredoo (Qtel), Vodafone Qatar, Qatar National Bank and Microsoft.
Mada provides adults and children with learning challenges, as well as parents, caregivers, schools and other institutions with advice on a wide variety of ‘Assistive Technologies’. These technologies, such as software programmes, are able to meet an individual’s specific learning needs, whether related to physical, auditory, visual or learning challenges. Mada is available to citizens and residents alike, and also offers training to health care or social workers that can help them use assistive technology to benefit their clients. As Katherine says, parents have to be in-tune with their children. “One has to look at the world in ten, fifteen years. How will we be living? What new technologies will we see? We have to see the world through their eyes; through their lenses. You have to get your child to a level where they are as independent as possible, where they are able to stand independently as an adult one day.”
As W.B. Yeats said, ‘Education is not the filling of a pail; it is the lighting of a fire’ – in Doha the resources are out there, it is simply a case of looking hard enough for them.
*Not their real names