Renad Academy’s Parent Teacher Association president, Aisha Al-Amari, has a “special” daughter. She tells us why.
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Aljazi, happy birthday to you!”
That was how we celebrated my daughter Aljazi’s birthday. But she never blew out her birthday candles, never opened her gifts, and never had a slice of her favorite strawberry cake with an image of her printed on it. The fact she was not celebrating was not because she didn’t know that this day was special, but also because Aljazi does not need loud noises, music, and lights to celebrate.
My five-year-old daughter has an innocent laugh that lights up my life. Her meticulous and passionate character has opened my eyes to new, beautiful worlds, ones that are filled with love, joy, and serenity. To us, every day is a special day worth celebrating. And we take each day with renewed hope and a beautiful dream. Because my daughter is different - there is something special about her!
The candle flames were dancing before my eyes, and at that moment I remembered Aljazi’s second birthday party.
Two years ago, I held my daughter in panic and went to Sidra Medicine (a member of Qatar Foundation). The medical staff talked to my daughter for about an hour, then told me that she is a very intelligent child. But they also told me that she had autism, and that although I was incapable of changing that reality, I could support her by developing her abilities and building her self-confidence. They introduced me to Renad Academy (part of Qatar Foundation’s Pre-University Education), a specialized school that provides support for children with autism.
That day, I was overtaken with mixed emotions. I felt incredibly sad because it was confirmed by the doctors that my little girl has autism. But I was also full of new hope when I learned that Renad Academy was accepting applicants and ready to welcome my child to what would be her second home in the years to come.
From that day onwards, Aljazi’s birthday no longer belonged to her alone, but belonged to me as well. I was reborn as a mother of an autistic child, a new role that saw me discover my own abilities, educate myself, and support other parents who have autistic children, all as part of my duties as president of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at Renad Academy.
This marked the beginning of a beautiful new journey filled with new challenges and victories.
Since Aljazi was only a six-month-old baby, the word "autism" has been circulated countless times in our household. I could not bring myself to admit that my daughter was showing signs of autism, and I did not have the courage to ask a professional about them.
Aljazi often hid herself in the corners of the room, woke up at night, and sat on her bed in silence. She isolated herself, retreating into her own world, and had a habit of arranging Lego cubes in an extremely organized way. She avoided eye contact and never called me by my name, although she could memorize and recite so many nursery rhymes. I often pleaded with her to reply to me when I called her, but she never responded.
Sometimes she would suddenly get a high fever, and in difficult times she had severe tantrums where she shouted incoherently, unable to express what she was crying about. In these moments, my tears poured down involuntarily, because I was also unable to understand what my child was crying about.
Despite all the available signs, everyone told me that Aljazi is a normal child, and that she did not suffer from anything. They advised me to not make a big deal out of this. But my instincts were telling me the contrary. Still, I tried to escape from the truth for a long time, until, one day, I was forced to face it when I tried to enroll Aljazi in a nursery, and was told it was not possible.
"What's wrong with my daughter?" I said, in a panic.
"Your daughter is a special needs child and there are special nurseries for cases like her," they replied.
That was the first shock.
The second shock came when Aljazi fell and injured her shoulder. After taking her to the hospital, I ended up filling out a diagnostic form for autistic children. Most of the answers I ticked marked the presence of abnormal behavior, so I could not complete it. All the signs indicated that my daughter was indeed suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which made me feel like I was taking on more than I could ever endure.
In the six months that followed, I was very depressed, and I did not dare to confront people for fear of judgement. I researched ASD relentlessly to learn more about my daughter’s condition. Unfortunately, the more I read, the more I felt isolated. I was asked questions like “what was your diet like during pregnancy?” and “did you take folic acid supplements?", which further reduced my confidence in my competence as a parent.
I sympathized with Aljazi and asked her to forgive me implicitly. I stopped taking her to shopping malls to protect her from people’s stares, from their lack of awareness on autism, and from their inability to respect her rights.
That period was the most challenging period in my journey with autism - until I finally decided to face the challenge directly. Whether the cause of the disease was genetic or another factor, it was still the will of Allah that I had been chosen to be the mother of a child with autism.
I left Sidra Medicine, and headed straight to Renad Academy. My daughter was welcomed by the school’s experts since day one. Their teaching methods are based on the development of children’s skills and enhancement of their abilities. They provide an environment that enables the child to interact with their surroundings, creating a positive impact on their lives. I was impressed by the school’s deep understanding of my daughter's condition and its ability to deal with it. I regained my confidence as I was sure that this was the right place for her.
The early days were difficult, because Aljazi was not used to being separated from me. Likewise, I was not ready for Aljazi’s absence from home, and I missed her passion, loudness, and the way she clings to my dress all the time, singing her requests to me.
Since then, a period of triumph over challenges has begun. A new passion has also grown; a passion for beauty, learning, support and community engagement.
Every morning, I take Aljazi to school. She says her goodbyes in a hurry and rushes to her class, where a new world awaits her. At school, she communicates with her classmates and learns the alphabet and how to pronounce words. She also takes part in the educational and recreational activities, including drawing workshops, horse riding, and football, which are offered by Qatar Foundation.
Aljazi’s skills have advanced significantly. She has become more disciplined and independent, organizing her belongings on her own. She has chosen purple as her favorite color and has become particularly close to one of her classmates.
Renad Academy helped me improve the way I communicate with Aljazi. It made me realize the important role that parents of children with autism play. Being part of the PTA, we support children to integrate into the community, to help them become active members of society in the future.
I was reborn as a mother of an autistic child, a new role that saw me discover my own abilities, educate myself, and support other parents.
My daughter taught me that the small details are what make life beautiful. Together, we are building unforgettable memories.
When she has a tantrum, I put a nice-smelling perfume on her hands to help her relax. When she sings, I sing along with her. When she stares out of the window, watching the rain, I take her outside to play, dance, and enjoy the rain that she adores so much. When she stares at street lamps, I tell her that she is just like the light shining from those lamps, because she lights up the world around her with love.
Aljazi has made me proud to have a child with autism, and I realized that she is not an ordinary child, but an exceptional one!