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Story | Education
28 April 2020

How QF is helping to make Qatar an autism-friendly nation


A collaboration between QF school Renad Academy and a UK charity is paving the way for greater social awareness of the support people with Autism need to be active community members.

Through a partnership between a Qatar Foundation school and a UK-based charity, the goal of creating an Autism-friendly environment across Qatar is being advanced.

Experts from the National Autistic Society (NAS) came to Qatar this year for the second time to deliver training packages to staff at Renad Academy, a specialized school which is part of Qatar Foundation’s (QF) Pre-University Education and supports children with Autism.

The aim of the visit by the training consultants from the UK’s leading charity for those with Autism – which followed an initial training exercise in 2016 – is to help enable Renad Academy’s team to provide similar NAS-licensed training to stakeholders in Qatar, and make people across the country more aware of Autism.

Mandy Rutter, Autism Training Consultant with the National Autistic Society

Sherri Miller, Director of Renad Academy

Mandy Rutter, a National Autistic Society (NAS) Autism Training Consultant, said Renad Academy staff are now licensed to deliver three training courses to business partners – Autism Champions, Essential Autism, and Autism and SPELL – saying: “This will enable Renad Academy’s team to target the length and level of delivery to their stakeholders’ needs, ranging from a short introduction session for those who are very new to Autism, through to an in-depth two-day course for those needing more specific knowledge.

“It means that children and adults with Autism, wherever they go, will have people around them that understand Autism, increasing accessibility and inclusivity.”

When we talk to businesses in Qatar, they want to learn about Autism, and they want to be accessible for people with Autism – they just need more information about it.

Sherri Miller

According to Sherri Miller, Director of Renad Academy: “When we talk to businesses in Qatar, they want to learn about Autism, and they want to be accessible for people with Autism – they just need more information about it.

“At Renad, we are now being licensed to provide the necessary training using well-practiced methods created by NAS, with the aim of creating an Autism-friendly community. As a school for children with Autism, we want this community to be fully accessible to our students, and since organizations and businesses don't necessarily have the information about how they can be Autism-friendly, we can train them on certain strategies they can use to achieve this.”

Qatar is home to 5,000 children with Autism, and Miller says the training will include supporting mall-based businesses to be Autism-friendly “so parents can take their children there with confidence”, and collaborating with hospitals and children’s centers, with organizations across Qatar having shown their willingness to support the initiative.

“The more children with Autism are active in the community, the more Autism will be accepted,” she explained.

Our role is to help the community become familiar with, and accepting of, Autism.

Rola Ayoub Satouf

“One of the keys to supporting people with Autism is empathy – demonstrating that you understand why they behave as they do and providing an environment that doesn’t overload their senses. This training concept has been shown to have value in other countries, and we will be sharing it with the community in Qatar.

“For us, it will be a great support because it means that when we take children on a field trip to, for example, a farm, the staff there will know how to interact with our students and ensure the environment is right for them.”

Six members of Renad’s team have been trained by NAS, including Rola Ayoub Satouf, a Parent Trainer at Renad, who said: “Our role is to help the community become familiar with, and accepting of, Autism.

“We believe that collaboration with families and professionals will help in supporting these students to reach their fullest potential. We are taking a further step toward increasing Autism awareness and creating a healthy society for children with Autism.”

There is a desire to know more about Autism among organizations in Qatar.

Niall Lawlor

There is a desire to know more about Autism among organizations in Qatar, explained Niall Lawlor, Community Outreach Coordinator at Renad. “Awareness of Autism in the community has grown,” he said. “People are now very eager to have students from Renad coming to them on field trips, or to have a special activity with them, and they want to do it well and do it right.

“They just don’t always know how they should do this, so we are looking to disperse a knowledge base across Qatar.

“Once we are all certified, we will start looking at identifying who we want to focus this training toward as a priority. As well as helping children with Autism, it also helps their parents. When they take their children out, they will not be worried as people in the community will know how to approach and interact with children who have Autism.

Rola Ayoub Satouf, Parent Trainer at Renad Academy

Niall Lawlor, Community Outreach Coordinator at Renad Academy

“We are trying to create awareness regarding Autism, and our aim is that everyone in Qatar will benefit from this initiative.”

Lorraine MacAlister, an NAS Autism Training Consultant, says that from what she has witnessed in Qatar, “people are very open to learning as much as possible” about Autism and “want to help improve people’s lives”.

“Everybody – not just children and their parents – needs to be involved,” she said.

“In the UK, getting to the stage of having, for example, Autism-friendly hours at shopping centers, cinemas, and museums has taken some time, and there was some skepticism at the start. But now those who have engaged it are now saying ‘let us do it more often’, and businesses such as supermarkets are doing it as well.”

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Lorraine MacAlister, Autism Training Consultant with the National Autistic Society.

Renad Academy is a specialized QF school that supports children with Autism.

One of Renad Academy’s goals is to increase awareness of Autism among the community in Qatar.

And Rutter believes that Renad’s staff are perfectly placed to provide training that can help to make this happen in Qatar. “The children at Renad do horse-riding and other activities, they are happy, and they are learning,” she said.

“This is because they have teachers, staff, therapists who understand them and who work well and closely with their families. All this is hugely important in terms of the training they will be providing.”

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