As the Bahrain This Week team entered the white doors of AlDana Centre for Special Education, a little girl runs out to welcome us, her face beaming with an angelic smile. “This is Dana. We decided to start this place all because of her,” says Fay Hasan, Managing Director of the centre and aunt to little Dana, as she introduces us to the lesser-known world of kids with autism.
“It is sad that our society is still prejudiced against the autistic. We have seen several parents who went into denial when their kids were diagnosed positive for Autism,” she tells us.
For those who confuse autism with genetic disorders like Down syndrome, she explains, “Autism is a complex biological disorder characterized by difficulties with speech, abnormalities of posture or gesture, problems with understanding the feelings expressed by others, sensory and visual misperceptions, fears and anxieties and behavioral abnormalities like compulsive/obsessive behaviors and ritualistic movements.” Fay also adds “There is extensive research going on to find the reason for the occurrence of such a disorder. Unfortunately there is still no single cause established. And it is difficult to recognize by the physical appearance of a person, which is very much unlike other disorders.”
Dana for Special Education is one of the few institutions in Bahrain that is entirely dedicated to accommodate full service behavior and development therapy for children. As an organisation for special education, the team at this place is extremely committed at providing the highest quality therapeutic interventions for children with behavioral and development difficulties.
“We started off more than a year ago with preparations that include getting the right place and setting everything at the highest quality available in today’s scenario,” Fay talks about the beginning of the center. “Our operations began in the beginning of 2015 and our team is designed to meet the individual needs of children who are diagnosed with behavioral, social and communication difficulties between the age of 2 and 12 years. Our classrooms provide 2 teachers to 5 students; that would enable us to give our best to kids who are here at Dana, believing that we will be able to make a difference in their lives.”
Each classroom at the center is specially equipped to handle different therapeutic sessions for the children. The sessions also assure that they develop skills which help them stand independent in this society to which we all belong. “Once the kids are prepared to lead normal lives, they can be enrolled into other schools like other kids their age. At such times, many schools have shadow teachers, who are there with them, making sure of their well being as well as those who they mingle with,” says Fay.
She goes on to explain how they choose the kind of therapy classes each kid should undergo. “We do a comprehensive assessment of the child across all skill areas including behavior, visual perception and barriers. After the assessment, we provide the parents with a detailed report on the child’s current levels and recommend therapy packages would benefit them the best.”
Dana is home to few of the best highly qualified and experienced professional professionals giving special training to kids. Each of them is a specialist in their own field, implementing several beneficial programmess including speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration, physical therapy, auditory integration training and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. “There are very few special education centers that offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy,” Fay says. “It can be considered as a treatment course that improves symptoms of autism by increasing oxygen intake and thus reducing inflammation and hypo-perfusion in the brain.”
“Along with all these therapies, we also provide biomedical, dietary and alternative treatments which involve regular consultations by professional physicians who have dedicated their research for autistic children.” Fay points out, highlighting the key services that help Dana stand out in the crowd.
As we continued to the first floor, the classes on the ground floor had come to an end and we could hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet, restless to run into the open arms of their parents. That is when we were introduced to Mrs. Soumya Saleh, little Dana’s mother and the PR Manager of the special education center. Soumya recalls her experience with Dana, “My angel was born normal. But it was after she turned 2 that we found she had suddenly turned autistic. We don’t have any history of autism in our family. And to date we are not sure what the reason might be.” She continues, “We so badly wanted to see her play, talk and smile like other kids her age. And with the special education we have been providing her, she is picking up extremely fast and has started with her first words.
“We are really proud of Dana! She sure is a special god-sent gift for all of us in the family.” Soumya finishes with a smile.
When we mentioned to Fay about movies that portray such kids as extremely brilliant, she said with a nod. “Our movies show a lot. Don’t they? Autism can show a spectrum of symptoms. And they can sometimes make the child’s IQ go beyond expectations.”
With further plans of expansion on the charts, Fay finally gets back to her office. For this lady who has personally oversees the training that the children receive, it’s now time to answer phone calls and see to all the paper work that needs completion. She says, “A day’s work here doesn’t get over when our kids leave for home. It is just the beginning for us to teach ourselves to give them a better tomorrow.”