Jennifer King, Managing Director of Emirates Special Needs; Edward King (left), business development manager, and Omar Al Latif, who attended King's previous venture Future Centre for Special Needs as a student, talk at the Beach Rotana hotel in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Ravindranath, Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Tall, slim and full of energy, Jennifer King is on a mission. As managing director of Emirates Special Needs, King wants to shed more light on how the non-profit organisation can provide resources for those who have a disability or for loved ones who need specialised care.

"We make sure that all of those who come to us with special needs find the support that they need. We also make sure we find companies willing to employ those with special needs," King, an expatriate from Trinidad of British origin, said.

This is not the first venture that King has undertaken to help people who are mentally or physically challenged. After receiving the go-ahead from Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, who became an honorary chairman, King set up the Future Centre for Special Needs with co-founder and patron Mohammad Abdul Jaleel Al Fahim. Many who came to the centre seeking help were able to find just what they needed, whether it was from qualified psychologists, support groups or otherwise.

"I had a lot of problems when I first came to the Future Centre for Special Needs as a student. I had failed a couple of years because I had learning problems, but when I came to the centre, I was given one-on-one tutoring, which helped me a lot," Omar Al Latif, an Emirati who has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Bipolar Disorder, said.

"I was then accepted to Adnoc's [Abu Dhabi National Oil Company] Technical Institute and discovered that I was great at mathematics.

"I left for personal reasons but now I'm teaching temporarily at a school. I still go to therapy sessions and take medication," he added.

After three years of hard work, Jennifer stepped down from the position of director of the centre and handed it over to the present director, Mowfaq Mustafa in order to set up Emirates Special Needs. But tragedy struck the King family soon after when Christopher, one of Jennifer's children, was hit by a car while crossing the street.

"Three months after I set up [Emirates Special Needs], Christopher, who was 15 years old, was hit by a car while crossing the street.

One-on-one care

"He was paralysed and sustained brain damage… [but] because of intensive one-on-one nursing care at a special unit, he can now interact normally with people around him. Christopher is 24 years old now but mentally he's six or eight years old.

"When that happened, I was devastated and have lived with the guilt of the accident for the last five years. But the show had to go on. I would cry with my dog at 3am and then become ‘Jenny of the Future Centre' [for Special Needs] during the day," King said. However, King's bubbly personality soon returned as she launched into a detailed plan of what she hoped to do to raise awareness about the centre's website, which included a magazine column, among various other initiatives.

Another person who has been inspired by Jennifer's tireless efforts is her son Edward, who became the business development manager for the non-profit organisation.

"I started out by volunteering to teach mathematics at the Future Centre for Special Needs. At Emirates Special Needs I make sure that anyone who wants to help find employment is not taken advantage of. I contact the companies, check out where they [special needs job applicants] are going, give them support and even go into interviews with them," he explained.

"Just because someone has a disability it doesn't mean they're stupid," King, said.

The Future Centre for Special Needs

The Future Centre for Special Needs, a non-profit organisation that specialises in the education and habilitation of individuals with disabilities, who may stay at the centre between the ages of three and 20 years of age, is preparing to move its facilities to Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed City, said its director, Mowfaq Mustafa. The new location will encompass two floors, the first of which will be used for classrooms, as well as a computer room and various other services. The new facility will also provide vocational training for its students.

"We hope to expand the number of students from the 180 that we currently have. Also, we have successfully integrated 81 students into regular schools and have found employment for four students: an Emirati, an Indian and two Arab students. We hope that the expanded centre would be able to provide much more than what is currently being offered to our students," Mustafa said.

For more information about the Future Centre for Special needs, please visit www.future-centre.com

Emirates Special Needs

Since its inception in 2001, ‘not for profit' Emirates Special Needs has rapidly become a unique and widely known resource for families and children with special needs across the UAE and the Middle East. It is widely known for education, support groups, medical professionals who work with people with special needs and now - ‘not for profit' projects.

For more information about Emirates Special Needs Website, please go to www.emiratesspecialneeds.com

Medical Terms

  • Dyslexia: According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), dyslexia is a learning disability that can hinder a person's ability to read, write, spell, and sometimes speak. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in children and persists throughout life. The severity of dyslexia can vary from mild to severe; however, it is never too late for people with dyslexia to learn to improve their language skills.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: ADHD is a condition resulting in symptoms of inability to maintain attention, impulsive behaviours and/or motor restlessness. A neurobiological disorder resulting from problems in the dopamine neurotransmitter systems in the brain, most cases are genetically inherited. If a parent or close relative has ADHD there is a 30 per cent chance that a child will also have ADHD.
  • Bipolar Disorder: It is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe and can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

Sources: www.medicinenet.com; www.add.org; NIH.