Special education teacher Nikola Vujosevic reads to a pupil in the library of Skills for Kids, a centre newly opened in Dubai. The centre aims to better prepare children with special needs for mainstream education. Pawan Singh / The National
Special education teacher Nikola Vujosevic reads to a pupil in the library of Skills for Kids, a centre newly opened in Dubai. The centre aims to better prepare children with special needs for mainstrShow more

Dubai special education needs centre teaches life to young students

DUBAI // A centre for children who have special education needs has opened with a mission to send its young clients to mainstream schools.

Skills for Kids, founded by clinical director Francine Luthi Haddad and director of education Karen Vantilborgh, offers a day classroom programme for children aged five to 15, as well as one-to-one speech, behaviour and occupational therapy for children as young as two.

“Our mission is to have the kids here that cannot go to mainstream school but our goal is for the ones that are mild to go back one day,” said Mrs Luthi Haddad, a Swiss who has worked in the special education field in Dubai for eight years.

“We are working with schools,” she said. “Every time we can put back a child we go, we advocate and then we give the support to the school.”

The centre focused on inclusion by involving the children in field trips and teaching independent life skills.

“We are very lucky because we are in front of Sunset Mall and opposite to the beach, so we try to take them to the beach, we try to go to the mall,” said Mrs Luthi Haddad.

“For the ones that are most able, and the older ones, we try to make these outings as functional as we can.

“For example, we go to the supermarket to buy something if we are talking about money, so it becomes more real. We try to base our teaching on something true, real.”

Life skills classes teach the pupils how to get dressed, go to the toilet, wash their hands, brush their teeth and other daily practices for independent living.

“These kind of things appear to be very easy or we take for granted but, for the parents, it’s very important because at home then suddenly it’s a different life when the child can be more independent,” said Mrs Luthi Haddad.

Each pupil also takes part in at least two therapy sessions per week, depending on their learning plan.

The therapy sessions, classroom programme and outings are included in a monthly Dh10,000 tuition fee.

Any special education needs child between the ages of five and 15 who can work in a group setting can qualify for the classroom programme, said Ms Vantilborgh.

“Which means, if they have big behaviour challenges, or behaviour issues, then we prefer to take them in a one-to-one therapy until they are ready to go into a group setting,” she said.

“So we have an educational day programme but we also have behaviour therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy, so one-to-one.”

The founders said they wanted to keep the school small so that each child could get the attention they needed.

Classrooms have no more than six to eight children and the centre’s maximum capacity is 40, though places were available. The teacher-to-pupil ratio was one-to-three.

Rhian Clarke, a British mother of a three-year-old girl who has delayed speech, said the centre was recommended to her by her daughter’s school.

“I’ve been to see some other places, which were more like clinics, felt more like clinics, were set up like clinics,” said Mrs Clarke.

“What I immediately liked about Skills for Kids was the fact that it was set up like a small school with a classroom environment, where the children are able to have one-to-one therapy as needed, plus they get the benefit of having group play, PE, sports day.

“They eat their snacks together, they have their lunch together, and so it was, to me, much more preferable.”

Mrs Clarke has noticed tremendous progress in her daughter’s ability to communicate since enrolling her in the classroom programme.

“She’s been there since October and we hope to transition her back to mainstream school to repeat the nursery, the FS1 year, in September,” she said. “That’s what we’re working towards at the moment.”


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How Tesla’s price correction has hit fund managers

Investing in disruptive technology can be a bumpy ride, as investors in Tesla were reminded on Friday, when its stock dropped 7.5 per cent in early trading to $575.

It recovered slightly but still ended the week 15 per cent lower and is down a third from its all-time high of $883 on January 26. The electric car maker’s market cap fell from $834 billion to about $567bn in that time, a drop of an astonishing $267bn, and a blow for those who bought Tesla stock late.

The collapse also hit fund managers that have gone big on Tesla, notably the UK-based Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust and Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation ETF.

Tesla is the top holding in both funds, making up a hefty 10 per cent of total assets under management. Both funds have fallen by a quarter in the past month.

Matt Weller, global head of market research at GAIN Capital, recently warned that Tesla founder Elon Musk had “flown a bit too close to the sun”, after getting carried away by investing $1.5bn of the company’s money in Bitcoin.

He also predicted Tesla’s sales could struggle as traditional auto manufacturers ramp up electric car production, destroying its first mover advantage.

AJ Bell’s Russ Mould warns that many investors buy tech stocks when earnings forecasts are rising, almost regardless of valuation. “When it works, it really works. But when it goes wrong, elevated valuations leave little or no downside protection.”

A Tesla correction was probably baked in after last year’s astonishing share price surge, and many investors will see this as an opportunity to load up at a reduced price.

Dramatic swings are to be expected when investing in disruptive technology, as Ms Wood at ARK makes clear.

Every week, she sends subscribers a commentary listing “stocks in our strategies that have appreciated or dropped more than 15 per cent in a day” during the week.

Her latest commentary, issued on Friday, showed seven stocks displaying extreme volatility, led by ExOne, a leader in binder jetting 3D printing technology. It jumped 24 per cent, boosted by news that fellow 3D printing specialist Stratasys had beaten fourth-quarter revenues and earnings expectations, seen as good news for the sector.

By contrast, computational drug and material discovery company Schrödinger fell 27 per cent after quarterly and full-year results showed its core software sales and drug development pipeline slowing.

Despite that setback, Ms Wood remains positive, arguing that its “medicinal chemistry platform offers a powerful and unique view into chemical space”.

In her weekly video view, she remains bullish, stating that: “We are on the right side of change, and disruptive innovation is going to deliver exponential growth trajectories for many of our companies, in fact, most of them.”

Ms Wood remains committed to Tesla as she expects global electric car sales to compound at an average annual rate of 82 per cent for the next five years.

She said these are so “enormous that some people find them unbelievable”, and argues that this scepticism, especially among institutional investors, “festers” and creates a great opportunity for ARK.

Only you can decide whether you are a believer or a festering sceptic. If it’s the former, then buckle up.

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