Children mingle at autism event

Workshop attended by more than 300 pupils was held in association with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation.

Elvin Mathew, 6, focuses on his painting on Saturday at the Picture This art workshop for children with autism at Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi. They and other children created their masterpieces, which will be on show at the park. Delores Johnson / The National
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ABU DHABI // More than 300 pupils with autism spectrum disorders are socialising with other children at an art workshop at Umm Al Emarat Park on Saturday.

The workshop, which finishes today, is aimed at showing the children that even with differences, we are all the same.

Grade 2 pupil Mansoor Al Masabi, 7, had autism diagnosed when he was 3, and his Emirati mother Aysha Al Afifi had to leave her job to look after him.

“It’s important to understand the difference between the children and be tolerant,” Ms Afifi said. “Each person faces some sorts of challenges in life and my child has some challenges that he has to overcome.

“We also grow as Mansoor teaches us about tolerance.”

Next year, Mansoor will be moving to mainstream school, his mother said.

Under the patronage of Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan Al Nahyan, the workshop for children with autism was held in association with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation and Mubadala.

Yousuf Al Arad, 7, was discovered to have mild autism at the age of 2, said hi Palestinian-Jordanian mother, Mona.

“I had trouble finding a good place for his treatment,” she said. “It was quite difficult but I finally found a good one in Abu Dhabi.

When his autism was diagnosed, Yousuf was unresponsive, lacked communication and would not make eye contact.

“After treatment, he improved but still lacks in speech and communication,” Mona said.

But he had no problems expressing the fun he had at Saturday’s event: “I enjoyed it a lot.”

The two-day workshop will include 350 children with autism spectrum disorders. Their art will be displayed from March 6 until March 31 at the park.

Volunteers from Al Raha International School and New York University Abu Dhabi were assisted by autism charity group Goals UAE to help the children.

“Goals UAE works with volunteers, mainly from high schools and universities, which I feel is a wonderful way to naturally grow an inclusive society by developing relationships between typically developing students and those with autism,” said Khawla Barley, founder of Goals UAE.

The relationships the children develop at the workshop will filter out into their schools, community and later into their places of employment, creating a naturally more inclusive and accepting society, Ms Barley said.

Hamza, 5, had autism diagnosed when he was 3, said his Australian mother Lamees.

“The impairment is more in socialisation and communication, but he has improved lot and started going to mainstream school now in Abu Dhabi, she said.

“He still has daily struggles in concentration and motor skills, but he’s doing really well now.”