Thousands of Dubai residents, including children and adults of different nationalities walked at Zabeel Park for the cause of autism this week on Saturday.
The Walk for Autism aimed to raise awareness and highlight how important the issue is, Dr. Hibah Shata, managing director and co-founder of the Child Early Intervention Medical Center in Dubai, told Arab News.
“The public has to realize that children with autism can be helped through proper treatment and attention. But early diagnosis is important. If they don’t get early diagnosis and early intervention the chances of the child recovering becomes less and less over time,” said Dr. Shata, a Saudi citizen who re-located to Dubai in 2000.
Autism is a developmental disorder that appears within the first three years of a child’s life and affects social and communication skills.
According to statistics from Autism Speaks, a global organization, one out of 88 children born today will be diagnosed with autism by the time they are eight-years-old. Therefore, early intervention and planning are critical to help more children learn and integrate into mainstream schools.
“The Walk For Autism is a good opportunity for the community and society to show their support for the cause. With this cause we can form a better future for children with autism,” Dr. Shata added.
The event has been organized every year in April since 2009. “I have been participating in the event for the last three years,” said M. Ahmed, an Indian who came to walk with his friends.
“This is a good platform to spread awareness," said Mahmoud, another participant.
The event, in partnership with the Emirates Red Crescent and in collaboration with Dubai Municipality and Dubai Healthcare City, was held at Zabeel Park in honor of World Autism Awareness month.
Organizers charged a registration fee of 25 AED per adult. Wearing white-colored Walk for Autism t-shirts, thousands of participants walked through the huge park.
“All proceeds will be donated to Red Crescent to support children with autism” Dr. Shata said.
A number of families joined the walk and participated in different activities and had fun. The event had music, a talent show, bouncing castles, face painting, art activities, etc.
“Through this, we intended to integrate normal children and children with autism. We needed to get the families to know that these children can be helped. There are some families who really don’t know what to do with their children. Parents are essential to the success of each child,” she explained.
Casey Garcia, a Filipino who came with her family members, told Arab News that she has been participating in the walk for the last two years. “Such events are good to raise awareness and it is a pleasure to see a number of family members here,” she added.
The event is organized by Child Early Intervention Medical Center (CEIMC), which was co-founded by Dr. Shata.
“We have been able to help a lot of children since we established the CEIMC in 2008,” she said.
When asked about the motive behind starting such a center in Dubai, she said “the schools were not ready to accept students with autism. I thought there should be a change in the situation and that lead to the opening of such a center. Since then we started autism awareness campaigns too.”
CEIMC is an autism specialty center that provides intensive one-to-one therapy, which improves the child’s language, social and academic abilities.
“Our aim is to equip a youngster with the skills needed to attend a normal school” she added.
“We accept children with autism. Even children who are sent back from regular schools because they are slow learners can come to us. We help them cope at their own pace,” said Dr. Shata.
“We have successfully managed to mainstream around 70 percent of the children in our center,” she added.
CEIMC has 100 students in Dubai. In addition, they have students in Brazil, Portugal and Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, Dr. Shata co-founded another center, the Child Learning and Enrichment Medical Center, which is a preparatory center that gives every child an individual education plan, teach academics and manage their behavior at the same time.
Dr. Shata’s achievements were recognized by the Emirates Women Award judges, who gave her the 2011 prize for leadership. In addition, CEIMC was nominated for the best special needs center by Princess Haya Award in 2010 and 2011 and won the best website in 2010. She has also participated in the Lebanese Women Award and Emirate Excellence in Education Award Assessment panel organized by the Dubai Quality Group.
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