National Newspaper writes about us!! Autism Support- Abu Dhabi! Thanks to Janine, Razaan, Kalyani.
ABU DHABI // Janine Thompson, Razzan Galiel and Kalyani Saha huddle on a sofa as they gossip about their sons.
This could be any mothers’ gathering but these women have one special thing in common – their sons are autistic.
The mothers have become friends through the Autism Support Network, which was launched in April for parents by Nina Bhuptani, an Abu Dhabi assistant behaviour analyst with more than 20 years of experience.
Ms Bhuptani, 47, wanted a network where parents could give support, share stories or simply lend a sympathetic ear to each other.
“I wanted to do something like this for ages because in Abu Dhabi, there really was no support for parents who discover they have a child with autism,” she said.
Ms Thompson, 43, is a senior law assistant from Britain, whose 13-year-old son, Sam, attends the Future Centre for Special Needs in Abu Dhabi.
When she was told eight years ago that her son had autism, she felt angry, upset and shocked.
Luckily, with the right intervention since moving to Abu Dhabi four years ago, Sam is now thriving.
“He loves the school he is at and that is paying dividends,” Ms Thompson said. “He is showing a lot of interest in things we thought he would not want to do and he is starting to find skills he might be able to use as an adult.”
Ms Thompson is frank about the challenges of being a mother of an autistic child. “It is hard work. The challenges outweigh the rewards until you have a child that starts to calm down and behave properly,” she said.
Being a mother of one of the older children in the support network means Ms Thompson can pass on her years of experience.
“With him being older, mums can say to me, ‘did he used to do this?’ or I can say to them, ‘Sam used to do that’. It makes them feel a lot better,” she said.
Ms Thompson also uses the network to blow off steam, particularly after a difficult day.
Trips outside, even to the doctor, can be challenging because traits Sam has as an autistic child, such as laughing and talking to himself, draws looks from people.
“I like to have a meltdown or a rant at times,” said Ms Thompson.
Ms Galiel’s son Shauaib, 9, had autism diagnosed when he was two.
“He had all 10 fingers and all 10 toes and was a lovely, calm baby,” said the South African mother, 36. “You never envision that your child has autism.”
Like Sam, Shauaib is a high-functioning autistic.
“He is highly intelligent and very self-sufficient,” said Ms Galiel, who moved to Abu Dhabi two years ago and home schools her son.
She joined the network to give advice to other mothers. “I wanted to do what I can to ease the worry for first-time parents, even if it is just a shoulder to cry on.”
Ms Galiel feels there is still a stigma attached to having an autistic child in the UAE, and believes this is caused by a lack of awareness.
Ms Saha said her son Dhruv, 13, is in mainstream education at Cambridge High School, Abu Dhabi, where he excels in maths and computing but struggles in other subjects including English.
“This is when he falls behind and gets frustrated,” said Ms Saha, 44, an Indian who quit teaching to shadow her son at school.
Despite his intelligence, Dhruv still has difficulty with simple, everyday tasks so small accomplishments such as making a sandwich or talking to another pupil are rewarding.
While there is a growing knowledge of autism in the UAE, Ms Saha believes there is more to be done, such as inclusion programmes for autistic children in mainstream education and more training for teachers and care workers.
Before the Autism Support Network, the three mothers had few friends as an autistic child can place tremendous stress on relationships, they said.
Together, they hope they can provide a supportive backbone for new members of the group.
“I think for any parent who discovers their child has autism, it is a life-altering thing to discover but it is not the end of the road,” said Ms Galiel. “You just have to take one moment at a time.”