Special needs children in UAE may suffer if expat schooling bill passes

Parents of learning-disabled children say new law requiring mandatory schooling leaves them short of options.

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ABU DHABI // Parents with children who have learning disabilities are nervous about a new schooling bill that may require expatriates to put their children in school or face the revocation of their residency visas.

While government schools are able to provide assistance to those with minor learning difficulties, there are few options for expatriates in private schools.

"The problem is the UAE public system does not reach everyone," said Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. "In this case, expats are left with no options."

This has meant many have turned to home schooling or returned to their home country.

Vera Magnusson, a 37-year-old Swedish mother in Abu Dhabi, has a son who suffers from sensory problems. "He cannot necessarily focus on what a teacher is saying," she said. "It's not terrible; we suggested a shadow teacher, and are willing to pay," she said. "He is intelligent and at the same level as his peers."

She has approached four schools, and all said they were not equipped to take her child. "We were honest with schools," Mrs Magnusson said. "They assess kids to go to school here - even at age of four.

"I said: 'Let him attend with a shadow teacher'. Three schools said OK. I know people in assessment with him who said he did fantastically well. The shadow teacher said he did it well - she came out and gave me a thumbs up. Then all come back and say we don't think we can meet your son's needs. Based on what?"

NS, a mother of two in Dubai, was allowed to place a shadow teacher with her child who had delayed speech development, but said it proved of little use. "We paid for her, and it turns out she was actually just helping in the classroom with all the children," NS said. "She did not focus to help my son."