Two Abu Dhabi mothers have taken extra-curricular activities for autistic children into their own hands
Two mums have launched a new after school club for autistic children.
One in 50 children in the UAE are autistic, and diagnoses are on the rise. While the developmental disability affects children differently, many struggle to interact.
Khawla Barley’s seven-year-old son, Abdulla, was diagnosed aged two. She says, “Abdulla’s doing well academically in a mainstream school. But socially he has challenges, as he finds it difficult relating to other kids. I can’t just drop him off at an after school activity – he needs special attention.
“There is a huge gap in the extra-curricular activity market for autistic kids. The UAE sometimes has one-off events for kids with special needs, but nothing long-term.”
In spring 2014, Khawla met Michele Ziolkowski, who also has an autistic child. Khawla adds, “Autistic kids need lots of stimulation and movement. They can’t sit around playing video games because their energy builds up then explodes. Michele and I realised we needed an outlet for them.”
Together they took action – and in November 2014, Goals UAE was born.
Khawla says, “Goals UAE targets the needs of autistic kids so they can have fun after school.”
The organisation helps the children participate in activities that build their self-confidence and social experience.
Its first initiative was football classes, in partnership with ProActive Soccer School (Pass). The coaches are trained to be aware of the varied needs of the participants and volunteer buddies work with each child to help them build skills and enjoy themselves.
But football is just the beginning. Future activities will include photography, art, other sports and music classes. It aims to be year-round soon, too.
Khawla adds, “We are a not-for-profit community initiative. We keep costs down by getting rooms and fields donated, so starting a new activity takes time. But doors are opening for us.”
Volunteers are crucial to the success of Goals UAE. The organisation is in discussions with schools to recruit students. “We aim to have community engagement and connect our kids with their surroundings. With so many volunteers, a side benefit is that we raise awareness about autism, which helps our kids be more accepted.”
The money to run Goals UAE has come from Khawla and Michele but they are hoping to find funding in the future. Their hard work and the help of volunteers means parents needn’t pay a fortune for the activities. Football costs AED 120, music AED 150, both for six weeks. Sessions last 30-60 minutes throughout the city.
Goals UAE hopes to accept all interested participants, and with 50 children enrolled already, it’s off to a good start.
For more information contact: [email protected]
www.goalsuae.com or search for Goals UAE on Facebook.
Photo above: Abdulla
Khawla Barley won a hamper of goodies worth AED 200 from jones the grocer for her efforts. Do you know a local hero? Nominate them on Twitter @abudhabiweek – if they appear in the magazine they’ll win a prize