Behind the scenes at a centre for special needs children in Bahrain
Time Out Bahrain staff
Christine Gordon used to be a professional singer performing nightly at swish venues such as the Diplomat, then her son Osman was born and her life changed forever.
At the age of just three Osman started nursery and was sent home after just one day. He was diagnosed with autism and, realising there was nowhere, at that time, catering for the condition Christine decided to set up her own centre for children with special needs.
That was aroung 13 years ago and the project has grown and grown until now RIA not only runs pre-school classes for youngsters with special educational (ed) needs but also takes those who will attend mainstream primary school.
Christine explains: “It’s about inclusive education, making sure it’s available for everyone whether they may have hearing, visual or environmental problems or whether they are what society would classify as ‘normal’.
“Our government here in Bahrain is very interested in inclusive education and has signed up to international provision standards but, though the will is there, we have a long way to go.
“You start by changing people’s attitudes, it’s no good trying to change the old fogies who are set in their ways but if we can get the young people together so that they see special ed kids as just kids with different needs, the way they react will change.”
Once they reach primary school age, many of the RIA youngsters will go off to mainstream schools having made friends with special needs children at an early age.
Others, who aren’t able to cope in regular schools, can stay at RIA where they have a chance to learn at their own pace without the pressures a classic classroom setting can bring.
Students study either the English or Arabic curriculum suitable to their individual needs and abilities which might mean that a child of year five age is doing work usually targeted at much younger children but is actually achieving much more than might otherwise be expected of them.
Christine says: “The idea is to have inclusive education in regular schools but you can’t do that without extensive support both for the special needs students and also for the teachers and the families. That would be the ideal but, as I said, it’s a long process though there are places, such as Canada where I’ve just been on a research visit, where it’s working well.”
She would like the chance to have mainstream primary students at RIA saying: “The children would learn together but, in order for this to work for the kids who don’t need extra help, there has to be sufficient support for those who do, which is what we provide.” However, so far, the facility is not appropriately licensed so that’s on her wish list for the future.
Another project which is much closer to fruition is the RIA Life Skills Academy where older special ed kids can learn just that – life skills.
“When special ed kids reach their teens, a lot of parents just don’t know what to do with them. Many are no longer interested in children’s games or activities suitable for younger kids which is where life skills teaching comes in,” says Christine.
“This can be anything for example what to do in an emergency, taking into account the home environment, such as letting someone know if a parent is taken ill, it might be how to call a family member or maybe to run down to the nearest mosque and ask for help.
“It can also be things as simple as how to load and even work the washing machine. Though many children here will never have to do that because there is domestic help, it’s a useful thing to know.
“We’ve also organised work experience at The One for three of our older kids and that was a huge success, it really gave them a different view on the world and they found it stimulating and exciting.”
And, as if that wasn’t enough, Christine also hopes to start up Play Fair teams when the schools come back for the beginning of the new term. Another initiative she picked up in Canada, Play Fair involves getting together groups of young people who will befriend a special needs youngster to do run-of-the-mill activities from just hanging out listening to music or reading to going on outings together.
“Osman’s biggest problem is that he has no friends,” said Christine “and that is the same for many special ed kids, they get bored and want to be out there doing things and that’s where they Play Fair scheme comes in.
“It can work for any age group, as long as the logistics of lifts and supervision are taken into account, and can be hugely successful and stimulating both the for the mainstream kids and also for those with special needs. Once again, it’s all about inclusion and this is a brilliant example.”
RIA is also currently running a summer camp which operates through to August 16. And, as to Christine? Now she spends five days a week coming up with brilliant schemes to help the island’s special needs kids but at the weekends you’ll still find her belting out jazz and blues at Upstairs Downstairs. For more information call (17 716 871).