Emirati mother struggles to find affordable, qualified shadow teacher for special needs son

An Emirati mother of a four-year-old with mild autism is struggling to find an affordable and qualified shadow teacher for her son.

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ABU DHABI // When it comes to public and private schooling in the UAE, the law is clear: education is for all.

But for one Emirati mother whose four-year-old has what she describes as undiagnosed “mild autism”, finding a private school for her son felt nothing like a universal right.

“Whenever I am honest, in two or three days, I receive an email that there are no seats available for my son,” said Ms Al Amiri. “It is a major issue here in the UAE.

“My son is being rejected because I’m honest about his speech and communication therapy. It hurts a lot.”

Eventually she found a private school that would accept her son, but only if she hired a shadow teacher.

“They told me that the classroom had more than 10 students and they had to give them equal time,” said Ms Al Amiri.

“Because Khalifa needs more time, more focus, they requested a shadow teacher for him to help him improve and to be more independent.”

She turned to a clinic that advertised qualified shadow teachers trained by applied behavioural analysts [Aba]. But after paying the Dh6,000 monthly fee, it quickly became clear to Ms Al Amiri that the hire was hardly a qualified professional in special education. Desperate, she turned to a Facebook group and posted a want ad.

“I received lots of CVs, some of them are from cashiers, one was a woman who used to work with a marketing company and now she wants to work as a shadow teacher just because she wants a job,” said Ms Al Amiri. “I cannot hire a shadow teacher with no experience.”

Ms Al Amiri said parents would be willing to pay an “affordable amount” if the shadow teacher was qualified, trained or supplied by an education body such as the Abu Dhabi Education Council.

She said providing for her son’s education was a costly business. “He must attend sessions with a speech therapist and Aba therapist,” said Ms Al Amiri, noting that many of the sessions were not covered by insurance.

“Besides that, there are shadow teachers who are asking a lot of money with no experience.

“If she is a real shadow teacher, it’s OK, but I still haven’t found a real one. At least there should be a place or a centre that is regulated by Adec to work on who can be a shadow teacher.”