Dubai Krishna Kisani, 19, is out shopping for groceries. Nothing unusual about that, except that he is an autistic adult. From preparing the list of things he needs and picking them up from the supermarket shelves to paying the cashier and collecting the change, he goes about the chore with a sense of purpose and ease — thanks to the impeccable training he has received at the Integreat Centre for Special Needs in Dubai.
“Baked beans on toast,” he says, when you ask him what he is buying the groceries for. It’s a sumptuous meal he will make for himself when he heads back to the centre.
Like him, there are 14 other special needs adults at the Umm Suqueim 3-based Integreat who learn life skills in the classroom and go out to public spaces such as supermarkets, malls, restaurants, offices, even the Metro, to put them to practical test.
“We call it experiential learning,” says Ayukta Thakur, one of the three founders of Integreat, along with sister Kiran Thakur and Nikita Patel.
“Our aim is to empower special needs adults aged between 16 and 25 years to become independent and integrate them into the workforce and society where they can pursue their interests,” she says, claiming that Integreat is the first “holistic” special needs centre for young adults in the city.
According to Nikita, “Students are taken in after an in-house curriculum-based assessment and given individual, measurable goals over a two-year programme. The first year is dedicated to life skills development in six core areas namely safety, domestic skills, money management, personal skills, transportation and communication.” Year 2 focuses on vocational training and covers employment skills, job readiness, experiential learning and integration. Various roles in the clerical, grocery, retail, hospitality and food service industries are explored.
As the centre opens admissions for the upcoming term in September, Kiran says, “Applicants should be aged between 16 and 25 and able to access our curriculum’s basic requirements which we determine through an assessment. They should also be able to understand English as it is our medium of instruction.”
The centre also runs a personal enrichment programme. “This is a sensory and therapy-driven programme and enables students to acquire practical life skills to achieve independence and self-efficacy. It entails sensory, motor, physical, speech and creative learning activities integrated with basic functional skills such as counting and identifying features,” says Ayukta.
While term 1 addresses personal care, terms 2 and 3 cater to domestic skills and safety. The whole gamut of communication, social skills and functional academics is covered in the programme.
“My son has learnt a lot since he started attending Integreat. He can relate to and do many household chores now, whether it is the laundry, setting and cleaning the table or washing the dishes, mopping the floor or making his bed. He can also lend a hand in gardening and manage some grocery shopping,” says the mum of a teenager who has been with entre since its inception.