Dubai: Twenty-five-year-old Tanya is a happy young adult with special needs. Active, communicative, she loves to spend her time painting and enjoys the moments she spends with her friends.
But this is not what her life was like about a year ago after she graduated from school.
She was mainly confined to her home for almost four years as there were not many places where she could go to spend her time.
Being an adult with special needs, she sought the company of people who she could relate to, those who were her age and engaged in activities that interested her.
The situation was equally difficult and frustrating for her family, who were growing worried about the deterioration in her progress in the absence of any activities in which they could engage her.
Happy to paint
Today, an artist at Mawaheb From Beautiful People, an art studio, Tanya aims to "become a famous painter".
"I love to paint and am very happy to be here," she says.
Equally in love with this art studio are about 16 other young adults with special needs, for many of whom Mawaheb has proved to be a fresh lease of life.
"It is fun here, I don't want to go to school, they treat me like a baby," says chatty 20-year-old Rebecca.
Mawaheb is more than an art studio. It is a place where its artists long to come to every day.
They start their mornings not how one would expect them to in a school, but in a much relaxed way, with freedom to do things the way they like.
They paint and draw if they feel like it, take lunch and coffee breaks, and the teachers and volunteers ensure that each student does more than just engage with their art classes.
They teach them to interact with society, and once you start a conversation with any of them, it flows as it would with any other adult coming from a different background.
"We treat them as adults with freedom of thought and action. At Mawaheb, our endeavour is to integrate these young adults into society," said Wemmy de Maaker, who founded this art studio.
For many of these young adults, Mawaheb offered a fresh lease of life.
"Many of the artists who come here were sitting at home as there was no place where they could go after they finished their schooling," said de Maaker.
"It would be a frustrating situation for any of us if we were homebound continuously. The same was happening to many of our artists. When they have to stay at home, they get depressed and their condition deteriorates.
"Whatever progress they would have made in school also starts reversing due to the fresh problems that they and their families have to undergo," she added.
When Gulf News visited Mawaheb, the artists were busy with their paintings. As Gulshan Kavarana, their teacher, helped each one, one could see the joy on their faces — they seemed to be comfortable socialising and talking to each other.
"Its like having your group of friends. We need to realise that those with special needs also have this requirement of bonding. They want to have friends, hold a conversation," said Kavarana.
The artists discussed the morning's newspaper, sometimes they listened to music.
"One of the students told me she would prefer to work on two projects at the same time and I agreed with her. "Like other artists, those with special needs also get bored and it is natural. We need to understand their requirements and help them live a better quality of life," said de Maaker.
Today Mawaheb has 16 artists in the age group 18 to 35, and there is a waiting list.
"We are an art studio but we work at their social skills also.
"They need to know a lot of things such ad interacting with others, and stuff like, say, making their own lunch or coffee," said de Maaker.