RAK Autism Centre facing closure due to lack of funds

RAK Autism Centre looks after 20 children, who will have to end their development programme if it closes.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // A centre that cares for children with autism is at risk of closure because of a lack of funds.

RAK Autism Centre provides development programmes for 20 children, who will have to find other support if the centre is forced to close after a major backer withdrew his funding.

The private, non-profit organisation was established in 2006 by a group of volunteers and education experts.

It relies on funding from official organisations and donations to meet operating costs, while some parents pay 25 per cent of the enrolment fees.

“We looked for another source and one of the charity associations agreed to fund the centre, but then changed their mind last December,” said Aysha Al Shamsi, the centre’s founder.

Ms Al Shamsi said the cost to support a child at the centre was about Dh50,000 a year.

Saeed Al Balushi is concerned about the consequences for his son Mohammed, 10, if the centre were to close.

“I can’t imagine what will happen if the centre stops operating,” said Mr Al Balushi, 40. “My son has improved and I don’t want to see him relapse.

“His attitude would definitely change and this will affect his development progress and the family. The centre had helped in improving Mohammed’s skills despite their modest capabilities.”

Atta Al Sidig said the centre was one of the few in RAK that accommodated non-Emirati children and that without it he would have to keep his son at home.

“This centre gave us hope and helped my son to be more organised and self-reliant. Closing it will definitely affect him and us,” said Mr Al Sidig, 50, from Sudan.

“I had difficulties in finding a specialised centre for autism. I used to take my son to one of the rehabilitation centres but they provide a one-hour session that costs a lot, while others accept only Emiratis.”

Ms Al Shamsi said she founded the centre after a friend discovered her three-year-old daughter was autistic and could not find proper support in RAK.

“During our research, we found that there were 50 autistic children in RAK, so we decided to open our own centre. We worked on the licence, found funding, rented a villa and started operating in 2006,” she said.

In 2013, the RAK Government built a new centre that could accommodate 100 children.

“The new building has been ready for three years, but we haven’t managed to move there because we need to pay Dh230,000 to connect the electricity, plus Dh445,000 for equipment,” Ms Al Shamsi said.

The centre employs 20 staff, including therapists and administrators, but “if we move to the new building, we will need more staff to accommodate 100 children and young people”, she said.

Ms Al Shamsi has asked anyone interested in helping to contact 07 226 1513 or to email rak-ac@hotmail.com.