Qadijah S. Irshad meets the Hoopers who enrolled their normally-developing child at Manzil

Programme manager at Manzil Dr Robyn McLeary-Hooper and her husband, Stephen Hooper, capacity development manager at World Vision, Dubai, are one set of parents who have enrolled their normally developing three-and-a-half-year-old son Jordan at Manzil.

Dr Robyn McLeary-Hooper has a background in applied behavioural analysis/abnormal psychology with a doctorate in education with specific emphasis on special education and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Friday spoke to them of the choice they made.

Why did you choose this programme for Jordan?
Robyn McLeary-Hooper: Because it is the best for him. The reality is that much depends on the personality of the child and the programme that is on offer when you look into an option like this.

In choosing any programme for Jordan, I would be looking at the curriculum base and the quality of the programme.

I wouldn't put him in any setting.

I sought information as a part of developing this programme. I am confident that this option is the best that exists right now for our son.

He's learning everything we'd expect him to learn in any preschool with the added advantage of learning to accept people's differences from a very early age.

He doesn't have any preconceived prejudices - they are all equal peers to him. Besides, Jordan's benefiting tremendously from the Individualised Educational Programme.

How many preschools in Dubai will have a 2:1 or even a 3:1 student-teacher ratio? What about the worries of Jordan picking up behavioural patterns from the other children?
I don't understand the concept of ?catching bad behaviour' that parents seem to worry about. A normally developing child will throw tantrums, he will push boundaries - it's the response to such behaviours that counts for any child.

Special [needs] children are just different from normally developing children. They might have some extreme reactions to certain things, but normally developing children are quite capable of having extreme reactions when they are frustrated as well.

I am confident that Jordan is in no more danger of being hurt than in any other (school). The only reason a child would develop a behavioural pattern and maintain it would be if it is reinforced.

If the staff is good, paying attention and if there is enough staff and the idea is communicated to the child that any bad behaviour has its consequence, then a normally-developing child would learn that a negative behaviour would have a consequence and learn to keep away from it.

Do you give him extra coaching at home?
We don't give him any coaching at home. He's picked up his skills very fast as we are sure he would have done in a mainstream environment. Jordan has learnt his alphabet, colours, numbers, days of the week and so many other things in a very short time [in Manzil] and he thoroughly enjoys it.

If the option existed, would you allow Jordan to continue his education in a school which has predominantly special needs children?
Every parent looks at a child as an individual. If we found out that a special school had the best programme and the best outcome for the children in the entire area, and it could provide all the needs of the child, then of course we'd admit him there.

Why not? Just because it's a special school it doesn't make any difference to us.

Is your background as a psychologist influencing the decision you make for your child?
Our decision was not based on a whim or zeal. It was based on our child's needs. I am a mother before I am a professional and I will not sacrifice my child for
a cause.

Mark Twain once said "I don't let my schooling interfere with my education." And that's what we do at Manzil - we look at education rather than schooling. And that's why I'm happy having Jordan right where he is.''