Fighting on: Rachel Jex with her son Mark. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/XPRESS

Dubai: The knowledge that her first-born son had autism was not something Meena Noronha could easily come to terms with.

For several years after she became a mother, her thoughts were filled with uncertainty, even as she battled depressing negative tendencies. And when the family moved to Dubai, Meena was once again filled with fears about her son Calvin adjusting to the new environment, getting the right school, friends and a support system. “Life is not easy when you have a child with special needs. You do not feel a part of the society. For us, socialising was negligible, even going out together was rare as I felt like an odd person out,” she recalls.

However, all this changed when she came across the Special Families Support (SFS) group. “The first meeting itself came as a big relief. Never had I imagined that merely sharing your experiences and thoughts with others could make such a drastic change.

“For the first time, I felt secure being in the presence of others facing similar situations.”

From that moment, the support group became an integral part of the family’s life — it not only helped them build a network and lead a positive life, but also helped them overcome challenges. “At SFS, families are involved — we socialise together, learn about practical problems others encounter. I have learnt so much about how to handle many issues from other parents. The knowledge and information we have received comes straight from those who have experienced these issues and I feel today our life as a family is far more positive than before.”

Positive impact.

Meena and many other families of special needs individuals have to thank support groups for making a positive impact on their lives.

Ana Robles, a mother who is a part of Dubai ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) Support Group said: “I had umpteen worries in my mind when we moved from Spain as my husband got a job here. I was not sure if I would have access to the medication my daughter was taking, about our social circle and how the entire change would affect her and our life. I must say what we got through the support group has been much more.”

Through the support group, Ana and her family have not only been able to connect with other families in a similar situation, she says she today understands her daughter’s condition much better than before.

Support groups help organise interactions among families of individuals with special needs and some of them also organise talks by experts, which helps them get access to the latest developments that can contribute toward healthy growth of their children. “Some experiences of other people were an eye-opener for me. Being associated with the group has changed my perspective altogether and certainly made life much better for us,” says Ana.

The founders of ADHD Support Group

ADHD Support Group in Dubai has nearly 300 families who are a part of the group today. Rachel Jex, founder of the group says: “I was working as a nurse and happened to know a lot of other parents who had children with ADHD. By starting the group I realise that I am not alone. I have also developed much better understanding about ADHD — the group has impacted my life positively.

“We meet every month, parents come and share their experiences, problems and how they resolve them. This helps other parents as well.”

The ADHD Support Group also provides specialised information about the disorders; organises talks by specialists and helps families get access to the latest developments in the field.

Special Families Support Group

Gulshan Kavarana started Special Families Support (SFS) in 1999 and the group has brought hope to hundreds of families. “It was a shock to be told that my daughter is disabled. Like most parents, you feel no one understands you. When a friend suggested I find a support group, I looked around only to realise there weren’t any. That is how SFS was born,” she says.

Recalling the first SFS meeting, Gulshan says: “That day was the first time when I had 10 people facing a similar situation, sitting at my home. At first, I could not even open my mouth to speak; all that many of us did was cry.“

Today SFS has empowered many families. “We also have siblings, grandparents and family members attending meetings. Parents have told me how they used to feel odd in society and how their attitude has changed.”