UAE: We want people to understand what we go through, say parents of autistic children

“When we don’t have to worry about what our children will do without us, that’s when real change happens."

by

Sherouk Zakaria

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(L-R) Ahmed Al Suwaidi, Fadia Shaaban and Tripura Kishore —Photos by Rahul Gajjar
(L-R) Ahmed Al Suwaidi, Fadia Shaaban and Tripura Kishore —Photos by Rahul Gajjar

Published: Sat 2 Apr 2022, 1:48 PM

Last updated: Sat 2 Apr 2022, 4:12 PM

For Emirati national Ahmed Al Suwaidi, the most distressing part of being an autistic child's parent is planning a normal day out.

His son Dhahi was diagnosed with autism when he was only nine months old. As he turns five years old in October, Al Suwaidi said he struggles to find him a place in society.


“Many parents don’t understand what we go through to have a fun day out. When Dhahi is frustrated, he can yell and scream, and other parents would get frustrated. They sometimes pull their children out of the playground,” said Al Suwaidi, a human resources manager at Dubai Police.

“Keep him at home” is a statement he heard from several parents in public.


Al Suwaidi noted that it can take him up to three hours to get Dhahi on a ride in a theme park. “He even gets pulled out of rides and rejected in others.”

The father of three added: "While the country provides support and privileges for People of Determination, we still find a lack of understanding and tolerance towards this segment.”

On World Autism Awareness Day, observed on April 2, Al Suwaidi stressed on the importance of education to ensure proper integration of People of Determination (PoD) into society.

It is estimated that one in 100 children worldwide has autism.

Learning about autism symptoms, he said, is necessary for parents and their children to understand certain behaviours and accept them.

“When you see a child clapping his hands in public, blocking his ear or pointing his finger up, it’s likely that this child is autistic. Knowing this will help people be more understanding and even offer support if necessary.”

Al Suwaidi detected autism symptoms in his child when he was three months old. The boy made no eye contact and didn't engage in social interactions. He did not smile, cry or communicate verbally.

Enrolled at Dubai Autism Centre since in-person learning returned after Covid-19, Dhahi is slowly learning to communicate with a few words.

As a parent, Al Suwaidi said he tries his best to provide his son with a normal childhood and secure him an independent future. Dhahi is now learning the piano, horse riding and an arts craft.

Through his role in the PoD committee at Dubai Police, Al Suwaidi tries to support other parents of children with disabilities and advocate for rights to equality.

'Autism is not contagious'

Hailing from Zanzibar, Fadia Shaaban called it 'painful' to watch parents pull their children away when her 13-year-old daughter Aya throws a tantrum in public.

“The feeling of excluding a child because of a medical condition is not easy for us as parents to accept,” said Shaaban, a mother of four.

A common sight that may be a given for others is a dream for Shaaban – to watch her daughter play with other children her age.

“Often times, I notice children are fine with playing with my daughter, until their parents pull them away,” noted Shaaban.

Diagnosed at the age of four, Aya displayed unsociable behaviour and unusual focus on bright colours and pictures on walls.

The journey to treatment and communication enhancement has been a long and challenging one. “Feeling that our children are accepted will help us become more assured of the future that awaits them when we are gone,” said Shaaban.

Tripura Kishore, mother of 13-year-old Krishav, said the family tries to carefully plan outings ahead.

“It all depends on the autistic child’s mood and state of the day.” However, unpredicted situations are bound to happen.

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“Krishav makes sounds when we are standing in queues in petrol stations or supermarkets, and people always give us questioning looks, which naturally sometimes gives us discomfort.”

The Indian mother of two said she started raising awareness about autism among her circle of friends and neighbours. “Now, the people around me can support on my bad days.”

Kishore noted that the circle of awareness needs to grow further and louder to create an impact.

“When we don’t have to worry about what our children will do without us – that’s when real change happens,” said Kishore.



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