Abu Dhabi, UAE: Awareness of autism has grown in the past few years, but support for parents of autistic children remains lacking.
However, the Mother to Mother workshops, an initiative of the Autism Support Network (ASN), is aimed at addressing that need.
ASN holds workshops once a month at the Hyatt Capital Gate hotel to provide families of autistic children with emotional, social and educational support.
“There is much more emphasis on support for children with autism, but not nearly enough support for the people who will be the most pivotal driving force in the child’s development, learning and quality of life,” said Razaan Galiel, a 39-year-old South African.
“To have a sound building, the foundations need to be solid and secure, and mothers or primary caregivers of children with autism are the foundations.”
Ms Galiel is home-schooling her autistic four-year-old son.
The workshops have given her the opportunity to share her experiences and offer counselling to mothers who are struggling to cope with caring for their autistic children.
“It seems logical to have more professional parental interventions and support,” said Ms Galiel. “Having the proper support in place at the time of diagnosis will expedite early therapies that could substantially improve quality of life for the child and his or her family.”
Ms Galiel said she believed social workers should be assigned to help parents of autistic children.
“This will go a long way in creating stronger families under difficult circumstances as well as more positive prospects for the child due to a better, more parent-focused support structure,” she said.
Dr Zainab Alloub, a consultant paediatrician at Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital, said one in every 100 children in Dubai has autism, in line with global figures.
Fatima Jawhari, a 32-year-old Palestinian-Canadian marketing manager in Abu Dhabi, discovered her son had autism when he was 14 months old.
“I would encourage a workshop for siblings, as they too need a lot of support and can play a positive role in the growth and development process of their siblings [with autism spectrum disorder],” she said.
“I believe the lack of family support networks makes the group that much more valuable to help fill a void and provide the feeling of being accepted and part of a social community.
“The Mother to Mother workshop is a special haven for mothers to connect by sharing their experiences and benefiting from them emotionally and psychologically.”
The workshops seek to provide a non-judgmental platform where mothers can speak freely about the challenges they face.
Each workshop covers aspects of family life, relationships, coping strategies, social impact and dealing with everyday life with an autistic child.
Nipa Bhuptani, founder of the ASN, said she saw a need for mothers to have a safe space where they could discuss the difficulties they faced in raising children with autism.
“Families of children with autism are under a lot of emotional stress and find themselves isolated. There is no such space available to them to meet and share experiences with others who undergo the same situation and understand each other,” she said.
The ASN was formed three years ago and has provided support to more than 120 families.
© The NationalApr 2016