“No one knows about disabled children. I don’t have disabled children on my side of the family, nor does my husband’s family, and we are not related to each other.”
-Ghalia Al-Buainain mother of Khalid, who has Down syndrome, and Maha, who has mental disabilities.
There are many women like Ghalia who are faced with the challenges of raising children with special needs in a country that provides little information about them. Although the developing nation of Qatar is home to a large number of impressive hospitals and the Hamad Medical Corporation, facilities dedicated to supporting special needs children and their families are lacking. The majority of centers and schools for children with special needs are privately owned, accept very few students, and are in desperate need of professional assistance.
“Parents go from one place to the other, and in the process are getting really frustrated and often keeping children at home and not doing much with them which is really sad,” Samina Latif, the Speech and Language Pathologist of Sunbeam School, said. With the increasing number of expatriates in the community, the number of children with special needs is growing in Qatar. Many parents have difficulties finding an appropriate school for their child to attend as many schools have Arabic speaking staff only or do not cater to the specific special need of the child.
The majority of Qatari parents are embarrassed about their children with special needs, and hide them away in their homes. “The element of denial can be very very strong, it’s very difficult for them, very hard for them, to accept that their child has limited capacity,” Dr. Suhaila Ghuloum, Consultant Psychiatrist at Hamad Medical Corporation, said. “What we try to do, is explain to them and try to focus on the positive rather than the negative,” Dr. Ghuloum added.
In addition to the lack of information, facilities and assistance, there is also the question of what will happen to these people after they become too old for school. “We are planning on contacting companies, in the near future, to see if the older children can go and have experience in the work environment,” Olcay Connor, the psychologist of Sunbeam School, said.
Another problem parents are facing is a lack of attention and interest from doctors and specialists. “When we went to visit the doctors I visited a specialist at Al Rumailah Hospital and he said to me ‘Why did you bring them? Leave them! They are of no use to you,’” Ghalia Al-Buainain recalled. Despite these setbacks, parents are taking action into their own hands. Ghalia, the mother of Khalid, who has Down syndrome, and Maha, who has mental disabilities, did her own research to find out about her children’s’ special needs and treats them the same way as her other children. “I have no problem with my family, even when visitors come I don’t hide them. There are some families with sons and daughters over 20 years old, if others see them its accidentally, they don’t have a chance to take the kids and confine them elsewhere,” Al-Buainain said.