QF parents and parent trainer from QF school highlight need for inclusivity of all children
While parents of autistic children try very hard to help their children develop social skills, they are often left disappointed by society’s rejection of them. “What we go through daily indicates that there is definitely a lack of awareness when it comes autism and autistic children,” says Deena Adel Alselaiteen, a mother of a student at Renad Academy, a specialized school that is part of Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) Pre-University Education. “For example, one of the employees in a recreational center, where my daughter Lulwa has had a membership for three years, told me that my daughter was a disturbance to other children, and that they would cancel her subscription.”
What we go through daily indicates that there is definitely a lack of awareness when it comes autism and autistic children
For any parent, the pain and disappointment of their child being rejected is simply heartbreaking. And so, providing such families with a safe environment, in which their children can lead normal lives, becomes extremely important.
On World Autism Awareness Day, observed on April 2 every year, specialists, and parents of children with autism highlight the importance of acceptance – that these children need to be accepted by every member of their community before they feel fully integrated into society, something that takes time and effort.
“Creating an autism-friendly environment in Qatar is the goal that we focus on at Renad Academy,” says Rola Ayoub Satouf, a parent trainer at Renad Academy. “We realize that there are many challenges that face us. And we work with parents and society members in helping them realize that autism should not become a cause of fear that comes from long stares in public places or rejection in recreational activities. When we understand autism, we will realize how wonderful children with autism are.”
Creating an autism-friendly environment in Qatar is the goal that we focus on at Renad Academy
Although at Renad Academy, children get the right opportunities in a safe environment to develop their skills, their acceptance into society is still a long way ahead. Going to malls or any other public place becomes extremely daunting for these children. “The lack of appropriate environment and community services has a negative impact on these children. They will be inactive, feel rejected by society, and eventually become robbed of their independence,” says Satouf.
In this context, and through various partnerships, QF is aiming to build an autism-friendly environment in Qatar. Among these partnerships is a collaboration with the National Autistic Society (NAS), where experts from NAS train Renad Academy employees to help them amplify their autism awareness initiatives – one of them being creating awareness among corporate stakeholders.
“Many organizations in Qatar have received some of these trainings, such as Qatar National Library and Msheireb Museums. In addition, we have run trainings for parents and care providers of children, to help them understand their child’s condition, and empowering them in finding ways to develop positive interaction and communication with their children. We also have programs that run in collaboration with other QF departments,” Satouf said.
Generating awareness about autism will make society more aware of the needs of people with autism, and it will contribute to supporting us as parents, and encourage us to take our children to public places
Husa Khaled Al Khathani, a mother of two children with autism, says that despite Qatar's efforts in establishing autism laws, the society at large still needs to become more aware and accepting.
“Although we hold special cards that allow us priority in waiting lines and crowded places, the response from people, however, is still ethical, and not obligatory,” Al Khathani says. “Generating awareness about autism will make society more aware of the needs of people with autism, and it will contribute to supporting us as parents, and encourage us to take our children to public places and involve them in activities, without the fear of harsh reactions from people – those that may negatively affect our children’s mental health.”
It may be hard, but families should not give up hope. Instead, they should strive to change and improve the current situation through efforts within their own surrounding communities. Families should look for opportunities to create awareness about acceptance of such children, look for positive ways in dealing with pressures arising from unpleasant societal experiences, and continue integrating their children into society by taking them to public places, talking about them and sharing their experiences with others so that they are understood and accepted.
“Share your stories, reach out to friends, and make people aware of how wonderful autism can be. For some, it may be their first chance to really understand what it means to have autism and see the beauty that comes with it. Once that happens, acceptance isn’t just possible; it’s inevitable,” Satouf says.
She believes that autism is a super-ability rather than a disability, and all we need is to create an environment that builds on these super-abilities, rather than an environment that highlights the weaknesses of these children.