UAE scheme helping parents across the region master remote learning for disabled children

The sessions support families with the practical and emotional impact of remote study

Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination holds three-day training course for around 150 people with special needs and their parents at a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Courtesy: ZHO.
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The move to online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic created plenty of challenges and chief among those was determining how to support pupils with special educational needs.

A UAE organisation has come forward to support families of disabled children in managing distance learning.

The Bridges of Hope programme is organised by Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination.

It is helping parents in the UAE and beyond to help pupils stay focused during online lessons and manage their study timetables with minimal stress.

We learned how to understand our children and communicate with them and organise their lives

Parents have been trained to cope with the needs of their children, whether through reading, writing, maths, speech therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy.

“This is to train the parents to equip them with basic skills,” said Moza Al Salami, head of ZHO affiliate Al Ain Autism Centre.

“Parents are often under a lot of pressure while dealing with a child who has learning difficulties, both socially and psychologically.”

Pupils in the UAE returned to the classroom this year but children with autism and learning difficulties continue to attend school from home.

The ZHO programme started in January 2020 and was initially designed to address the behaviour and social skills of disabled children.

The first training session was organised at Mrajeeb Al Fhood camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan, and was attended by about 150 children and parents.

“We spent three days at the camp. We talked to the parents about the challenges they were facing and we built a sensory room for them,” Ms Al Salami said.

Hamad Al Kaabi during a sports tournament in Al Ain before Covid-19. Courtesy: Um Hamad.
Hamad Al Kaabi during a sports tournament in Al Ain before the Covid-19 pandemic. Courtesy: Um Hamad

But when Covid-19 hit and classes moved online, the organisation switched its focus to parents who needed help with home schooling. It now offers online courses for adults.

“The idea was to train parents to become their child’s teacher at home and avoid negative behaviour,” she said.

Dr Al Salami said they encourage parents to set up a family learning schedule.

Consistency, predictability, and follow-through will ease the challenges for the parents and the children.

She has five tips that can help to make online learning easier and effective.

1) Give the child enough time to co-operate and perform the requested task

2) Designate a special place for learning at home, preferably a quiet room with less distractions

3) Set a fixed timetable for learning that remains the same every day. This will help the child to remember it is study time and avoid confusion and chaos

4) Organise the study material in advance, and be well-prepared on how to teach and at what time

5) Provide moral and tangible incentives to encourage the pupil to study

“We also showed parents how to come up with a daily routine and trained them in teaching methods by using simple tools at home,” Dr Al Salami said.

Sixty-seven parents in Egypt attended the last course that was held between April 29 and May 1.

Similar courses have been organised for parents in the UAE and across the region.

Um Hamad, a parent in the UAE, benefited from the online programme.

“They showed me how to make things at home to teach my son,” said the 39-year-old Emirati.

“The courses for parents were comprehensive, they taught us from scratch.

“We learned how to understand our children and communicate with them and organise their lives.”

Her 14-year-old son, Hamad, started showing signs of autism when he was in grade 1, she said.

He stayed home for a few years and then started attending classes at Al Ain Autism Centre.

“He improved a lot, he started speaking, reading and writing,” she said.

“But when Covid-19 hit, he had to stay at home. It became very difficult, there was a lot of free time.

“The online course came at the right time. I have become his teacher at home and I have learned how to communicate with him.”

Shaimaa Ibrahim, 31, is the mother of eight-year-old Majed. She said her autistic son responds very well to discipline and structure.

“My problem was that I always felt guilty while dealing with him, so I wasn’t able to teach him,” said the Omani, whose husband is Emirati.

“He was our first-born and it was difficult to accept his situation.

“My mother-in-law saw early signs of autism when he was a baby but I refused to believe it and remained in denial.”

“My son goes to a specialist centre to learn and develop basic skills.

“The course gave me an insight on what to do.”