It has been a tough back-to-school week this September for special needs children in Dubai after a long summer break. For some children, the vacation meant traveling to multiple countries, checking in and out of hotels while for others it was about playing with cousins and interacting with neighbors in their home countries. Either way, many children found it hard to adapt to the school environment once they were back.
New spaces, unfamiliar faces:
Students, included those who had just started their academic journey and others who returned to their classrooms, only to find that they had been assigned different teachers or had new peers – read unfamiliar faces. A few days into the first academic week in Dubai, Autism Intervention Specialists received several requests from schools and nurseries to provide their students with the necessary support. These were children who had challenging behaviors or were diagnosed with autism but were nevertheless compelled to attend school by their parents. The reality is that most families in Dubai comprise working parents who cannot leave a child with special needs unattended at home. The available options then are nurseries or schools that offer a supportive environment.
Lack of dedicated support:
But this past week, I was witness to these children being subjected to gross negligence at these centers of learning. While words would be enough to help describe what was occurring at the centers, it is my responsibility as a professional behavior analyst to draw awareness to this reality. Here, children with severe autism are left to the mercy of LSAs with no proper programming or watch of a qualified supervisor. The so-called ‘support person’ simply sits behind the child, doing absolutely nothing, while the student watches YouTube with headphones on, all day! The child is in that classroom only because he can sit calmly and quietly.
Scenario two had the teacher, claiming to have a special education degree, wielding control over her nursery class in a more forceful manner than a warden who controls his prison. There was an utter refusal to be flexible, be it with the children or the staff. When you model rigidity, you teach rigidity; when you model flexibility, you teach flexibility. She even started dictating the behavior of one of her special needs students, a child with severe autism who had the proper support with him at all times. This was with complete disregard for the unique needs of that student.
Teachers, gear up:
Such incidents are unfortunate and a disservice to children with special needs who should not have to endure such an experience in the first place. When you promote inclusion, in any setting, be it an educational institution or a work environment, it means you are open to accommodating the specific requirements of individuals who need them.
The art of teaching extends beyond academic exercises. It involves numerous behaviors, skills, language, attitudes, and values that these children imbibe simply by being present in such learning environments.
Precious years of skill development:
Parents cannot be expected to know what is happening or be aware of the kind of teaching that their children receive. The onus lies with the schools to ensure that their students are being guided by trained supervisors or provided the necessary help under the right supporters.
Special needs children, especially those with autism spectrum disorder, require a whole other skill set. One that takes years of study and practice under the consistent and dedicated supervision of an expert. It should not and cannot be done by someone who is not equipped to do so. In such a case, the person paying a heavy price would be your child!