New Dubai autism centre is back on track

A long-awaited centre for autistic children in Dubai is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

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A long-awaited centre for autistic children is due to be open by 2015.

Construction on the Dubai Autism Centre began in 2007 with a completion date set for 2009, but the global economic downturn delayed it.

"People stopped paying and so everything froze," said Sara Baker, community service unit head at the centre. "But now we're slowly moving forward and we hope that it will be completed in the next three years."

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and the Ruler of Dubai, donated the land for the centre in Garhoud. It will include a fully equipped gymnasium, swimming pool and library.

"A group of German engineers designed the centre in a manner that provides an appropriate setting for people with autism," Mrs Baker said.

The project is budgeted at about Dh50 million, with the Government providing some funding. The centre is trying to raise Dh20m through donations.

The existing centre has 43 children and a waiting list of more than 260. Nearly half those enrolled and 40 on the waiting list are Emirati.

The annual fee will be Dh35,000, but it will cost the centre Dh140,000 a child. It relies on donations to make up the difference.

"The board doesn't allow us to increase the annual fee," said Mrs Baker. "Last year it was Dh30,000 and after much effort it increased by Dh5,000. It's important for us to keep it affordable but at the same time we need to have the funds to run the centre."

The centre will have room for between 150 and 180 children. Due to the challenges of recruiting qualified staff, Mrs Baker said the expansion would be gradual to maintain the ratio of children, special educationalists and therapists. "We don't want to compromise our quality," she said. "We'll take it step by step and grow as we hire more staff."

In the meantime, the centre is trying to reach out to the help children on the waiting list by providing parents with one or two-day workshops for Dh350 each.

"All kids should have some type of service," Mrs Baker said. "Ideally, we shouldn't have any kids on the waiting list," she said.

"We follow them and make recommendations and try to find a solution. The workshops are highly encouraged as they teach families methods they can take home."