Expatriates frustrated by the absence of special needs options

When it comes to getting an education, expatriate parents face a dearth of options for their special needs children.

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DUBAI // While the push to include disabled children in public schools is evident, a lack of cohesion in the private sector means the situation is often desperate for expatriate parents.

Some schools offer special needs departments with staff that can diagnose pupils' needs and tailor programmes to them, such as JSS International School in Dubai - one of only 11 schools to score a "good" on the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) ratings released in February.

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According to the DSIB report, very few Indian and Pakistani schools have such support programmes, meaning schools restrict admission for special needs students, stating a lack of resources, which leaves families with limited options.

Muhammad Afrasyab Satti, who is from Pakistan, moved to Dubai from Saudi Arabia with his family last year and spent months in a fruitless search for a school for his blind daughter. Public schools were not an option, because they do not admit expatriate children. Even an association for the blind was unable to help, he said. He is giving up - quitting his job and taking his family back to Karachi.

"It is shocking that there is very little awareness about services for special needs in the UAE," he said.

Expatriate parents are often reduced to begging individual schools to admit their children with disabilities, said Dr Eman Gaad, dean of the faculty of education at the British University in Dubai, who is also the chairwoman of the UAE Down Syndrome Association. Instead they should arm themselves with the 2006 disability law and argue for their rights.

"You go to the nearest school and tell them you have a child with a disability and are ready to work with them to include him or her because it is their right," she said.

Unfortunately, even if they can find their children a spot, expatriate parents are still left to shoulder the financial burden of supporting them while there.

"If a parent is willing to pay for assistants and other resources required for their child," said Dr Gaad. "There is no reason for a school to deny admission."