Autistic children take part in educational activities at the Autism Trust Foundation in Dubai. AT F hopes to raise awareness about the capabilities of autistic children through its initiatives. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: A special needs integrated school, which will reserve 30 per cent of its seats for autistic children, will open it doors in Dubai, the Autism Trust Foundation (ATF) — the organisation launching the new school — told Gulf News.

“We are currently working on the design plan of a part school-part centre that will allow for the integration of autistic students in regular schooling. Thirty per cent of the seats will be reserved for autistic children, providing them the best environment to experience effective teaching in a regular school layout,” said Fahed Bin Al Shaikh, deputy chairman of ATF.

According to Al Shaikh the lowest fee to enrol an autistic child in a special needs centre in the UAE is Dh200 per hour, while the cheapest therapist charges Dh500 per hour. “A child needs a minimum of 20 hours of therapy a month. These costs can burden the parents and deprive the child of the right [to receive] therapy.”

He hopes that the new school will provide the best services with the lowest costs possible, which he said he believes is rarely the case in UAE centres.

“These centres hire regular teachers who don’t have training in special needs education; there should be a unified regulatory board that makes sure that these teachers have qualified degrees. Another part of this problem comes from the fact that we also don’t have university majors and centres that provide majors and training in special need education.”

Al Shaikh said that he hopes that the school-centre will meet the gap of services in the UAE special needs education sector. The construction of the centre will begin after ATF receives architecture plan approvals.

ATF currently has three centres around the world, including a temporary centre in Dubai that caters to 22 students, providing them with one-on-one services.

“We have over 60 students on the waiting list so we opened a temporary centre to cater to some of the students until the school-centre is completed. This shows the need for such services in the UAE.”

More information about the school-centre will be disclosed after the initial construction phases begin.

ATF is a non-profit organisation with a network of offices in the UK, UAE, USA, Canada, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Palestine. It was founded by Al Shaikh on November 2010 with the goal of developing autism centres around the world.

ATF hopes to raise awareness among society, especially in the region, about the capabilities of autistic children by launching international programmes and initiatives.

“There is a lot of work to do in this region in terms of awareness. Most parents here do not want to admit that their children are autistic and even try to hide him and keep them at home. We hope to help raise awareness through future programmes that we plan on launching,” Al Shaikh said.