Shattering the myths about Down syndrome

How a protective older sister has led the way for Down syndrome awareness in the UAE.

Meera Al Dhaheri recalls a time she took her brother, Abdullah, to Khalifa Park in Abu Dhabi when he was just a year old.

"Standing right in front of us was a teenage boy who, like Abdullah, had Down syndrome," she says. "He was trying to explain to a woman and her daughters that exercise is good for you, but the lady gave him a strange look and ushered her daughters away.

"I looked at my brother and thought: ‘Oh no, this is what will happen to Abdullah too when he gets older.’ I didn’t like it at all – I don’t want this to happen to anyone with Down syndrome."

The experience prompted Al Dhaheri – who at that time, six years ago, was a graphic design student at Zayed University – to start an awareness campaign, as part of her graduation project, to lessen the stigma.

"I realised that families in the UAE don’t know what to do with their Down syndrome child," she says. "Sometimes they feel awkward, and they don’t want to take them out of the house."

In 2014, she organised art workshops for children with Down syndrome at Future Rehabilitation Centre in Mohammed bin Zayed City. This led to T-shirts, hoodies and postcards, and an exhibition at Khalidiyah Mall.

"People were surprised to find out that people with Down syndrome can paint," she says. "Some parents of children with Down syndrome came to the exhibition without their child, because they were too shy to bring them to the mall. But when they saw my brother and other Down syndrome children there, they returned with their children. That made me feel as though I was bringing about a little change within the families."

Al Dhaheri also has a blog (, and the Instagram account she created for Abdullah, @3bdallaaah, has more than 40,000 followers.

"I want to spread the message that people with Down syndrome can work, and lead a normal life. We share more similarities with them than differences."

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