Abu Dhabi: While awareness of autism is growing in the UAE, children and families affected by autism still battle stigma and misinformation every day.

Children with autism are all around us — it is a condition that affects as many as one in 50 children in the UAE.

Autism is a complex developmental condition largely characterised by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interest or activities.

To mark world autism awareness day and to inspire hope in families, several initiatives took place in the capital.

The autism project As One is a new documentary and initiative started by Shaikha Shamsa Bint Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It focuses on autistic children, parents and teachers involved in a unique theatrical and musical programme in the UAE.

The documentary, which is expected to launch by the end of this year, tells a story of joy and hope and celebrates the unique gifts of autistic children. “It is my sincere hope that the autism project will have a positive impact on the lives of the children and families who are participating in it, and that this documentary will help to inform the wider UAE public about autism and its nuances,” Shaikha Shamsa said.

“Overall, we want to ensure that our society does not fail to recognise and embrace the amazing skills and abilities of autistic children, and that these children are given the right opportunity and confidence to be active members of our community,” she added.

Ten children, who are between the ages of four and 17, have been chosen to participate in the autism project. They are all at various levels on the autistic spectrum and they came from different backgrounds and nationalities to join the musical and theatre programme, reflecting the diverse and international community in the country.

“I am very honoured to have been invited to create a musical theatre programme in the UAE for autistic children and to have the privilege to direct this documentary,” Tricia Regan, Emmy Award-winning director, told Gulf News.

“This is a story of magical children and dedicated parents struggling to understand autism and build meaningful lives for themselves. It is joyful, funny, and also often heart-wrenching — as is most of life. Clearly, cultures from all over the world are dealing with autism, and this film not only makes that clear, but also shows us that we are all more alike than we are different,” she said.

The documentary is produced by Image Nation, one of the leading content creators in Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

Information about the autism project and the upcoming documentary is available online at www.asoneautism.ae