Kingdom lacks special needs professionals



JEDDAH: FADIA JIFFRY

Published — Saturday 21 September 2013

Last update 22 September 2013 2:27 am

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The Kingdom needs qualified and experienced medical and teaching professionals for the increasing number of children with autism and disabilities, according to a local psychologist.
There are over 200,000 disabled children in schools across the Kingdom. “The Kingdom doesn’t really lack disability centers for children, but it does lack professionals in the field,” said Uzma Raheem, a clinical psychologist. Raheem is the founder of the Hope Center for Exceptional Needs, where she also works as a therapist.
“The education is not up to standard,” said Raheem. The education system is only producing people with BA degrees. “It is not creating the kind of people you need to supervise, head or lead.”
Raheem says the country needs more qualified occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech and hearing professionals. However, the education system is only producing “young girls with newly awarded BA degrees, who have just been let loose in the field. I wouldn’t send my child to them but parents with disabled children in the Kingdom are left with no choice and are desperate for services.”
Raheem said universities should focus on offering courses on occupational therapy and speech and hearing with qualifications at the master’s level to be on par with international standards.
“Right now, we don’t need people to take top positions,” said Raheem. “There are plenty of people for top positions today. What we really need right now are people who will supervise, people who will direct and monitor and those who are going to make sure proper work is done. These are the kind of people we are missing in the field of special education.”
“For example, I am the director of the Hope Center in Jeddah, but my job is mostly a desk job,” said Raheem. “When I started out, I used to train and that’s how it went. You really need people in that stage. What we have right now is people at the top level and the bottom level. The hierarchy that is needed to create a perfect setup is not available.”
“I want the disabled students to get a chance in life,” says Haya Al-Shahrani, a graduate in special education studies. “For example, they must be able to continue their education and take up jobs, just like other regular children. For this, we need a set of expert trainers who will provide the best guidance in this field.”
“Schools devoted to special education are launched almost randomly and most teachers are not qualified or at the very least, trained enough to handle complex cases, let alone educate children with special needs,” wrote Abdullah Sayel, a Saudi columnist.

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