Registration has opened for a Special Olympics programme in the UAE that challenges children with and without intellectual disabilities to build a robot together.
Unified Robotics 2020, held over three weeks, aims to introduce children to robotics while also encouraging integration between among pupils with and without special needs.
The annual competition was held for the first time outside the US in November last year with more than 200 pupils taking part from schools across the UAE.
Children between the ages of eight and 11 will learn the fundamentals of coding by programming a simple robot model and carrying out a series of missions.
Children over the age of 12 will be challenged to customise a virtual robot.
"Most people do not associate neurodiverse children with Stem and robotics, and in our discussions with parents, many said that it is not something that they had considered for their children," said Talal Al Hashemi, national director of Special Olympics UAE.
"But these special boys and girls never cease to amaze us, and evidence shows that they can thrive in these sectors if given the right opportunities."
He said the programme also helps children develop in areas where they need support, including communication and collaboration.
Karen Langan, unified robotics coach, and teacher at Sheikh Zayed Private Academy Girls in Abu Dhabi, said her pupils, some of whom have intellectual disabilities, were taking part this year.
She said she was surprised and happy to see friendships grow after pupils took part last year. Children who had intellectual disabilities found greater acceptance and were included in new social groups, she said.
"Children with special needs were good with robotic and had special skills they could rely on. They did not know they could be the star of the class.
"They found they had certain talents that they did not expect. They learnt to be patient, understanding and, kind and learnt what it takes to collaborate," said Ms Langan.
"The children started including pupils who had intellectual disabilities in their group during lunch."
Schools can register here.