When it comes to special needs education there are so many aspects parents, teachers, schools and society as a whole need to consider.

In the UAE, focus on special needs education comes through the federal law number 29 of 2006, which says that special needs in themselves are not an obstruction to getting admission into an educational institution (be it public or private).

Keeping in line with this, the Ministry of Education spells out the philosophies, goals and rules for all educational institutions across the Emirates with it’s ‘School for All‘ mandate.

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As a parent living in the UAE, what are the things you need to keep in mind for special needs education?

Afshan Abedin, who started her journey as a special needs teacher 19 years ago and currently works for a private school in Sharjah, shares her insight:

  1. What was your motivation behind becoming a special needs teacher?

I was drawn to this field in 1996 when I volunteered at ABSA, a school for the hearing impaired in Karachi, Pakistan. My volunteer experience there inspired me to join the Dubai Center for Special Needs when we moved to Dubai. There, I worked with children with Down’s Syndrome, Autism and related disorders and I was really happy to do my bit to help these amazing kids as they made their transition into young adulthood. I see it as giving back to society in whichever small way I can.

  1. Which strategies or methods do you use to help your students?

I work closely with the teacher of the class to develop and implement a specially designed program for the child I’m working with. This involves a great deal of one-on-one study, focusing on reading, writing, maths etc., to ensure that the child stays abreast of the class, and integrates well with the daily activities of his peers.

[Related: Special needs education: Finding a school in the UAE]

  1. What do you think are the most important things parents should consider when choosing a school for their child?

It really depends on the degree of special need. For children with severe disabilities, I would recommend a special needs school that is equipped both from an infrastructure standpoint, as well as a well-trained team, that would allow the child the best environment to flourish. For children with mild disabilities or learning disorders, a school that encourages integration and allows the flexibility of extra help for the child to ensure their continued growth and development would be recommended.

  1. What would be the ideal facilities or environment for students?

Again, it really depends on the degree of need. Special needs schools in the UAE are equipped with excellent facilities to manage and support the development of children with all types and degrees of disability.

[Compare schools in the UAE]

  1. What has been your greatest learning experience as a teacher? 

Patience. The need for empathy, not sympathy. The need to manage the entire family, not the child. The need to understand the best way to help the child learn and grow.

  1. Any additional comments you would like to add about special needs education in the UAE?

Parents need to recognize their child’s condition and have realistic expectations and goals for their child. Denial about their child’s condition, and their abilities, is common and it is up to educators and healthcare professionals to advise the parents on the best course of action, The parents do need to be involved in the development goal setting for their child, and the earlier the intervention begins, the better are the long-term results for the child, and the family.