Dubai, UAE: Breaking down barriers and eliminating the social stigma around children with special needs was the aim of a dental screening organised in Mirdif.
The Smile for Life campaign attracted 50 families and more than 50 children with special needs such as hearing problems, language delay and mild cases of Down syndrome and autism to the Kalimati Speech and Communication Centre, which opened two months ago.
While the children had their teeth checked, dentists and pupils were invited to speak with parents and therapists to discuss how they could make a clinical visit less stressful for children with disabilities.
Bedour Al Raqbani founded the Kalimati centre, a not-for-profit organisation providing speech therapies for children, after her daughter was born deaf.
“I was looking for a centre that offered quality but had a family environment, which offered support but not in a clinical environment,” she said.
“The kids who come here are not sick and don’t belong in an hospital, so we are trying to create a different type of vibe here.
“It is important to involve the families in the therapy.”
Therapy, including speech and sign language development, is offered for children with moderate special needs, some of whom are already in mainstream schools and nurseries.
The centre has a no white coat policy to help the children feel at ease.
“Just the feeling of going to a dentist or doctor can turn an adult’s stomach, so when a child with special needs visits, it can be even more traumatic for them,” Mrs Al Raqbani said.
“We don’t like it when these children are segregated from the rest of society. We are trying to change the way they are perceived as, unfortunately, there are still families who have this stigma. Society provides for them as much as anyone else.”
Check-ups were given a fun side, as dentists from Dubai Dental Clinic helped put smiles back on the children’s faces by joining in games and activities.
Kanza Dodhy lives in Ramstha, Sharjah, and regularly attends the centre with her daughter Mahnoor, 7, who has been deaf since birth.
“Before she knew sign language, Mahnoor was comfortable but there was just minimal instructions from her teacher. As the lessons have become more complex, she has had to learn sign language and immediately had a medium to be understood, and express herself.
“It is important doctors and dentists learn even the basic sign language, so they can communicate with children like Mahnoor. It puts them at ease straight away.”
© The NationalMay 2015