UAE University takes lead in disability care

Staff and student volunteers offer advanced treatment for special needs.

UAE University’s new special needs unit, which has been set up to treat people with autism, hyperactivity, speech impairment and other disasbilities. Ravindranath K / The National
Powered by automated translation

AL AIN // A facility has opened at UAE University in Al Ain to assess and treat students and the relatives of the university’s staff and students who have special needs.

The centre has been funded by the university and is being run by staff and student volunteers.

With all the latest equipment, it will utilise expertise from university departments ranging from special education to psychology and linguistics. It is expected eventually to open to the public.

The unit assesses patients over eight sessions using technology such as videostroboscopy, to look at vocal cord function, and a computerised speech laboratory.

Experts, including speech and occupational therapists, are giving up their time to give treatment and lectures on subjects such as autism.

Dr Yaser Natour, assistant professor of speech and language pathology and the unit’s manager, said the volunteers are important but the unit will eventually need full-time staff.

“Once we open to the public we will need a greater staff load,” he said. “This is filling a real gap here and in time, we hope this will be available to anyone in the UAE. But we are starting slowly for now.”

The centre is considered a vital learning tool for students, especially those training for special education. “They can do the hands-on part of their courses here,” said Dr Natour. “Even managing behaviour in class can be done here.

“Our vision is to embrace all the community across all ages, from children to adults and especially the elderly.”

Fatima Hesaiti, 21, is one of the students working in the unit. “I have benefited a lot from having this here already,” said the final-year special education student. “It’s great to be able to apply the theory we have been learning.”

So far, she has been working with people with speech and language disorders. “The adults are easier to work with as they can understand what we’re trying to communicate to them,” she said.

“We will be more qualified to deal with children after this experience. It’s given me more confidence now as we really feel we understand what we’re doing.”

Children with language delay and hyperactivity have so far been the most challenging, she says.

She and fellow student Sakhra Al Hassni, 22, hope to work in the unit when they graduate. Ms Al Hassni is in her penultimate year of special education training.

“Autism has been very difficult to deal with,” she said. “But we really do learn the practical side of our studies being here. It’s very important for the community to have this facility. It needs it. I think once more people hear about it, it will be extremely popular.”

The UAE needs more trained special education teachers, but as yet only Zayed University and Abu Dhabi University offer courses.
Nadera Al Borno, who has just submitted her doctoral thesis on special education at the British University in Dubai, said the centre is "timely".

“One of the biggest challenges that the Ministry of Education is facing right now is the lack of specialists, which is negatively affecting the development of inclusive education,” she said.

“This project is very timely with respect to the development of educational provisions of students with disabilities in schools in the UAE.

"Students with disabilities being accepted in mainstream classrooms has caused new pressures on teachers.
"Although they are currently being trained to support the students especially with the assistance of special education teachers, they are overworked due to many other responsibilities such as supporting students on remedial plans."

Ms Al Borno said hands-on training for students was vital. “The drawback of most of the on-the-job training courses provided so far is the lack of the hands-on and practical side.

“This training model is providing this essential feature which will result in transferable skills that teachers will take into the classroom.”