New centre in Qatar brings hope to families with special needs children
It’s around 10am, and the playrooms at the Child Development Centre, located in West Bay, echo with giggles from tiny-tots. A therapist enters the room, and informs a child that it’s time to go home. The little girl doesn’t listen, and continues to play. After much coaxing from her teacher and mother, she gives in.
Outside the rooms, therapists walk up and down the hall, holding various, specialised toys and play tools for the children. A bunch of parents standing at the reception waiting to make appointments for their children look a little anxious, happy and hopeful.
The children who study here fall in the Autism spectrum.
Hasna Nada, a proud mother of 7-year-old Faisal is the founder of the Child Development Centre. At the age of 3, Faisal started showing signs of having a disorder. Hasna tried all the limited resources available and kept coping with a few private therapists and restricted ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) therapy sessions, but to no avail.
“It was just never enough, we were barely managing to get by with what my son was going through,” says Hasna Nada in an interview with JustHere.
Hasna has been keen to do something about this lack of resources in the country for a while, and finally launched the Child Development Center on 17 December, 2013. The centre, which is a two-storey building with about 12-15 small rooms and state-of-the-art equipped playground, is located in a quiet area of West bay. Children diagnosed and treated are in the age groups of 2-18 years old, though a few are older. Currently, about a 100 children are enrolled at the centre.
What makes this centre different
Medically, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterised, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviours.
Aliya Qutub who is part of the outreach department in the CDC, says that 1 out of 168 people are diagnosed with Autism in the Middle East.
Most places in Qatar don’t offer a proper specialised structured ABA therapy which is important for learning disabilities. As a result, parents are left not knowing how to help their kids.
However, the Child Development Centre stands out from the rest due to its intensive, properly structured, wide range use of ABA therapy.
“It also proves as a better alternative to shadow teachers in mainstream schools as they are hard to find, and the child feels awkward in class,” said one of the therapists.
Allison Uhrmacher, mother of a four-year-old boy, speaks highly about the centre. “Noah lives in a lovely, little bubble with supportive and kind people surrounding him. This is going to help him cope later on as the aim of the game at the CDC is to ultimately help these kinds integrate into the mainstream society”.
It also proves as a better alternative to shadow teachers in mainstream schools as they are hard to find, and the child feels awkward in class.
Noah was diagnosed with an autism disorder when he was 18 months. “We went into a panic mode when we realised what our son was facing, but this centre has helped us a lot. We’re like one big family here,” she says.
“We all have good days and bad days. She’s come a long, long way since I first met her.” One of the therapists working at the centre could be heard telling a mother of a young girl with a learning disorder.
Shafallah Center and Awsaj Academy are two prominent, well-known centres for kids with special needs in Qatar. However, both centres offer their services only to nationals. Without any assistance for expat children with special needs, families would have to leave Qatar and go back. However, the Child Development Centre caters to everyone. Their services are offered to all children regardless of nationality.
With the opening of the CDC, parents now have a new avenue for their kids who have mild to moderate disabilities, as other centers have never ending waiting lists too.
In addition to these opportunities, the CDC also has an integrated Early Intervention Program (EI). The EI is a special kind of preschool programme for children with special needs. It has a plethora of activities and equipment for children to learn and play which is very important, but is lacking in other centres in Qatar.
Open to other special needs
The Child Development Centre has different departments of therapy for kids who also might not be on the autism spectrum but with other disabilities. The services offered are psycho educational testing, cognitive behavior therapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy and a few more.
Najwan Nayef, a lawyer and businesswoman who is part of the CDC, says “almost all the specialists and therapists hired have western education and impeccable credentials.” Allison followed the comment saying “CDC has very trained specialists, we as parents can relax knowing our child is getting the best treatment.”
For example, the early intervention programme class has 6 children with 4 therapists. Each session is tailored specifically to each type of child for the best possible results.
Out of the entire staff, 50 percent were hired internationally while the rest were hired locally, all with university degrees and more. While talking to JustHere, Aliya Qutub says “We don’t just hire the therapists based on their degrees and experience, we also need to see that they fit into the setting of working with kids here.”
As all centres with a reputable standard offering services to kids with special needs are not cheap, neither is the Child Development Center. However, the centre is on the lookout for sponsorships from various companies to help parents with the expense.
It’s a massive drain, both on the emotional and the financial side of things.
Some companies in Doha also transfer education allowances to cover the special needs treatment for children of their employees. The child development center has scholarships and bursaries available for certain families whose salary certificate indicates that they cannot make the threshold amount. Currently, about 30-40% of children enrolled are receiving scholarships and bursaries.
Allison adds saying, “It’s a massive drain, both on the emotional and the financial side of things. But on the bright side, some companies have special needs based costs that are offered on requests.”
The stigma around autism in the Middle East is slowly diminishing as places like the Child Development Center works to get rid of it. Al Jazeera Academy will soon be an all-inclusive school and other new projects for special needs children are starting soon in the country. “It’s something that’s on the horizon and upcoming,” says a hopeful Aliya Qutub.
[Featured photo courtesy: Child Development Center]