Saudi dad of autistic child says autism not a disease

Hassan Dennaoui with his son Ahmad.
Updated 03 April 2017
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Saudi dad of autistic child says autism not a disease

ABU DHABI: To mark World Autism Day, Saudi Hassan Dennaoui spoke to CNN’s “Connect the World” with Becky Anderson about how his 6-year-old son Ahmad’s diagnosis has pushed him to raise awareness about autism in the Arab world.
A few years ago, Hassan — better known as Big Hass, and the host of Saudi Arabia’s first FM hip-hop radio show — moved his family to the UAE following Ahmad’s diagnosis. Hassan now uses radio and social media to challenge how the Arab world views autism.
“In 2010 we were blessed with a baby boy, and three to four years down the line we found out he’s autistic,” he said, adding that the move from Jeddah to Dubai was aimed at providing his son with the right atmosphere to excel.
“We moved here (the UAE) exactly a year ago, and now he’s starting to speak. He’s starting to be much more aware of his surroundings.”
When discussing how this experience has affected him and his work, Hassan said: “When I say on the air that my son is autistic and that I’m not ashamed of it — and when I take a picture with my son, for example — I always use the hashtag #AutismisNotADisease or #AutismParent.”
He added: “Some people are a bit rude. They say, ‘Why are you so proud? He’s disabled.’ And I engage in the discussion. I think that’s what we want in the Arab world. As a radio host that’s what I try to do.”
Hassan explained what it is like for those dealing with autism and Down’s syndrome in Saudi Arabia: “They’re boxed down, put in houses with a ‘nanny’ while the parents are out, and that really brings tears to my eyes.”
His son being autistic “has opened another dimension for me,” he said, “supporting local (music) talents, changing perceptions about hip-hop, talking about my son, talking about how he changed me, how he made me more patient.”
Big Hass realized his passion for Arabic hip-hop in 2008 after discovering local hip-hop artists. “I started listening to hip-hop from Syria, from Iraq, from Palestine. I’m like, wow!”
He said rappers grew to become his primary news source: “I’d listen to them and educate myself on what’s going on in the region. See 99.9 percent of Arabic music is about love. You know we have other issues: Community issues, social issues and political issues.”
Hassan concluded his discussion with CNN by saying: “I want Ahmad, my son, to be the person he is destined to be, to become a man that can be dependent on himself, which is very challenging when it comes to autism, but I’ll definitely fight for that.”


King Salman’s support vital to national heritage achievements

The program aims to protect, promote and develop cultural heritage and make it part of the life and memory of citizens. (Supplied)
Updated 17 October 2018
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King Salman’s support vital to national heritage achievements

  • The Saudi leadership made key decisions to protect antiquities and historical sites
  • Saudi Arabia aims to conduct awareness campaigns, establish museums and develop them in a modern way to attract citizens and visitors

JEDDAH: The achievements made in Saudi Arabia’s national heritage sector, and the prizes and awards that have been won as result, are thanks to the support and efforts of King Salman, said Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).
His comments came as the king received the Sharjah International Award for Cultural Heritage, which was awarded in recognition of the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques cultural heritage program.
King Salman oversaw the creation of the antiquities and heritage sector 50 years ago and stood firmly against the elimination or extinction of archaeological and heritage sites, Prince Sultan said, and has made historical and important decisions to protect antiquities since the era of the late King Saud.
This support culminated in the adoption of the innovative Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques for the Care of Cultural Heritage program, implemented by the commission to bring about a qualitative shift in projects and programs devoted to national cultural heritage.
Prince Sultan said: “The award is a result of King Salman’s follow-up and support to the program, which the SCTH and our team have translated into projects and initiatives carried out in cooperation with highly professional partners, in order to preserve, restore and develop the national heritage and make it a reality that connects citizens to their country’s history and heritage.”
He said the SCTH has built upon the great efforts of the institutions that preceded it in taking care of the nation’s antiquities, as well as individual efforts to preserve national heritage.
“Today, we reap the fruits of these efforts: The culture we have learnt from King Salman and previous leaders, which has taught us to complete the work and loyalty of all those who built and achieved before us,” he said.
Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, a member of the Federal Supreme Council and ruler of Sharjah, announced that the Sharjah International Award for Cultural Heritage had been awarded to the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques Program for the Care of Cultural Heritage during a ceremony on April 22, 2018.
The program aims to protect, promote and develop cultural heritage and make it part of the life and memory of citizens. It also conducts awareness campaigns, establishes museums and develops them in a modern way to attract citizens and visitors, prepares Islamic historical sites to welcome visitors, and preserves culturally important buildings and towns to showcase the role of the Kingdom as a crossroads for civilizations through the ages and achieve a qualitative shift in the field, contributing to economic growth.