Participate in a special Sports Carnival + the #manzilbooks update

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That’s just a small fraction of the books that was loaded into the bus that came to pick it all up a few days ago. I want to thank everyone who donated their books to raise money for Manzil. I had nearly 2,000 in my house, and my father for one, is extremely happy that his storage room is empty now so he can stuff his things back in! I also picked up the books from Wild Peeta; a very big thank you again to them for letting me fill their shelves with the books we were collecting (I’m going to still collect until January, so please keep donating!).

Okay, so when IS the booksale? Many people have been asking me and I’ve been quite puzzled about it myself. After loads of delays, I’ve been told the plan is to hold it during the school’s Sports Carnival. I’m attaching the information given to me about the event here, sent to my by email:

Our theme for this year is “Together We Can”. To promote the same, we are organizing a Sports Carnival on Saturday 28th January 2012, from 10.00 am to 5.00pm, at the Khalifa University, Sharjah.

We are inviting mainstream and special needs schools from the U.A.E to participate in various activities. There will also be different kinds of stalls and games. The stalls are sold for minimum amount of AED 300. This is in the form of a donation. You may choose to pay more.

Please come forward to be part of our team to show the society that you care. Entries for participation will be received on or before Thursday 22nd December 2011.

And the formal letter that invites participation from members of the public:

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Download this file

Please spread the word to anyone whom you think might want a stall at the event! Thank you 🙂

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Special needs children enjoy camping in Fujairah (via Gulf News)

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The first time we stayed away from home, the first time we travelled far with our friends and the first time we used a sleeping bag. How many of us will remember these experiences?

These and many more experiences were felt during Manzil’s overnight camp at Ain Al Madhab Gardens in Fujairah. What made this camp different was that students from Manzil, a centre for individuals with special needs in Sharjah, were accompanied by their “buddies” from The Millennium School, Dubai, where they attend a partial inclusion programme every Wednesday.

All students, escorted by the staff , filed into vans one Thursday afternoon and soon reached the camp site. After putting away their baggage, the students enjoyed a game of football. They then went and explored the play equipment in the park. Later, it was time for drumming, music and some dancing.

In the evening, there was a barbeque and all the students sat down for dinner and watched a movie. By 10pm all Manzil students were fast asleep.

The next morning, after freshening up, the students had breakfast and by 9.30am they were headed back to school where their eager parents were waiting to take them home. The parents were surprised to hear about all their activities. The students had even packed up all their things independently.

It was a wonderful experience for these truly special students.

— The writer is an Inclusion Programme Coordinator at Manzil

 

Getting an Emirates ID card for someone with special needs

Guest post by Adita Divecha, Karan’s mother

Last year, we (Karan, Devina and myself) went to get our Emirates ID cards done, but later on found out that since Karan was only 14 then, he did not require a card to be made.

So it was his turn this year, since he’d turned 15, to get the Emirates ID card. This time, Karan, his father (Rajiv) and myself went to the Emirates ID centre in Barsha.

When we went in, he was quiet, but started getting fidgety and making a few noises when he saw the crowd standing in a long line (most kids with autism don’t like crowded places). As I did last year, I spoke to the lady up front and asked if they could help us somehow because there was no way he would stand for too long without getting upset.

She sent us straight in to the supervisor, where they took all the details from Rajiv, while I sat with Karan. They were really nice about having to see us quickly, which was very helpful.

We had to get his photo taken there, so he sat in the chair, but when we asked him to look up, he ended up looking at the ceiling and closing his eyes. After multiple tries, he stared at the camera, but with one eye closed. After a few more tries, he looked straight with both his eyes open and they clicked immediately. But they ended up using the photograph we’d provided; I don’t think he looked at the camera as straight as he should have.

Next: fingerprinting. The person taking the fingerprints was there the last time we came and even though a year has passed, he remembered us! He asked if we’d come before to make sure.

First he held Karan’s right hand, while I spoke to him to keep him calm, and started rolling a finger from one side to the other (they have to take the prints of the finger in a sort of 360-degree way). Karan allowed him to do that for just three fingers before he decided he didn’t want to do this anymore. He refused to let anyone touch his hands.

Then, Rajiv, the fingerprinting man and the supervisor had to hold him, but Karan is quite strong and kept pushing. He did this without crying or showing he was angry. It’s funny, in retrospect, to see a 15-year-old boy nearly pushing three grown men away.

I was standing behind him, patting his back and reassuring him that everything was okay. Eventually, we finished all the fingers on the right hand, and had to move on to the palm. He did put his palm on the printing device but didn’t want to press it hard, so we had to apply the pressure for him.

It was with a lot of difficulty that we finished, but it was done! But then we still had the left hand to do as well.

Nothing doing, indicated Karan.

He stood up once he realized we had to move on to the other hand, pushed everyone away and refused to go near the chair again. Nothing would convince him to go back. Finally, they said it was okay. They said because he had autism and that was causing him to be uncomfortable with the procedure, they’d put in a special note for his application saying that because he wasn’t happy going through the necessary process, they’ve just taken one hand’s prints and that would suffice.

Even though Karan didn’t really cry through the entire time we were there, I could see the relief on his face when he figured out we were done.

As usual, we had people (those waiting in the centre for their applications) staring at Karan like he was some kind of pariah, I guess because he was rocking a bit now-and-then and making loud noises. Doesn’t matter so much but you’d think there would be more educated people in society nowadays. Pity.

But the staff at the centre were really helpful. Extremely understanding about it, and we had a very good experience with getting the card sorted with the least possible fuss. I can’t be thankful enough about that.

The #manzilbooks update

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Bookmarks designed by Saurabh Chhabra (@2S8)

What’s happening with ManzilBooks? For those joining in now, here’s my plea to the community asking to donate books, and here’s the first #manzilbooks event we held at Wild Peeta.

Initially, the school wanted to hold their booksale in June, but haven’t hit the required 10,000 books the people helping them organise the event have requested for the sale to be held in the first place.

Where have they reached? With our donations and independent ones, they’ve passed 4,000. For this reason, they’ve decided to extend the duration of collection over the summer, and hopefully hit the target and carry out the event after the summer, and after Eid.

So…what’s happening?

I’m the contact person for pick-up points near Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City, Emirates Hills, Greens, Meadows, Springs, Lakes, JLT, JBR, the Marina. Anastasia (@TDAllonsy) will be looking after Dubai Silcon Oasis, Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) and the surrounding areas.

Alternatively, Wild Peeta has generously donated its Dubai World Trade Centre outlet as a drop-off point. If dropping the books off there is more convenient, then please do so. Do drop me an email (autism [at] devinadivecha [dot] com) to let me know you’ve done so. There’s a collection of books people have dropped off along with these lovely bookmarks for people to have a sit-down and read while they eat (make sure you don’t drop any food or drink on the books!).

We hope you’ll spread the word…if anyone is thinking of getting rid of their books, please point them our way!

Manzil’s annual concert – “I Can”

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(First picture in the slideshow was taken at the dress rehearsal a few days before the concert by @SaharLatheef. I don’t have very many pictures from the concert – I’d left my camera with my parents while I helped @shru_ the best I could with the video she was taking of the event.)

As always, Karan’s school hosts a concert for its students to participate in. I’d missed last year’s concert because I was away in UK, so I was quite excited about this year’s. It was held at the Sharjah Cultural Palace and this year was called “I Can”.

The event started off as always with a slideshow of all the students photographs, then the UAE national anthem and the Surah recitation by one of the students. After a singing performance by the students and the Best Buddies from Millennium School, Sharjah, there was a dance performance called Fire and Water. We saw two students graduating from the school this year, much to everyone’s applause and encouragement. Then we had the musical play, I Can, which was an adaptation of Helen Keller’s life. The concert ended as always, with a vote of thanks.

I always love going to these events … whether it’s their concert or their sports days (which I’ve said before). Even if you’re going through a particularly bad patch, attending these events never fails to lift spirits. It works for me anyway. You can go in feeling really bad about something, and walk out feeling on top of the world. Just seeing the student’s enthusiasm, hard work and effort paying off is such a lovely thing. You see the students really giving their all to put on an awesome show for their families and you see how much they’ve progressed since joining the school. The atmosphere is even more charged because of the expectations and hopes the audience has; it seems like such a normal thing…to perform at an event, doesn’t it? Preps for these concerts are even more than what other “normal” schools would go through. The students are given roles according to their ability and are trained to do it well. Karan had to walk in and then go to the fringe of the stage – he was playing a mountain hehe.

Can’t wait for their next event; one of the most exhilarating experiences I have every year.

At #manzilbooks at @wildpeeta

First, have a look at the lovely timelapse video that Shruti (aka @shru_) created. Then we’ll get on to the other stuff!

Along with @TwitBookClub, I hosted a event at Wild Peeta OS at DWTC (thanks @wildpeeta!), asking people to donate their unwanted books. Manzil, a centre for challenged individuals, is a small institution doing a lot of work for people with special needs and they’re hoping to host a fundraiser soon where they will sell all the books they have collected.

We’re still collecting books for them, so please get in touch with myself (@DevinaDivecha) or Anastasia (@TDAllonsy) or email me at autism at devinadivecha dot com and we can arrange to pick up the books from you. They were initially hoping to host the event in June, but frankly, it’s mostly been our efforts through Twitter that have seen results, so they don’t have very many books yet to justify hosting an all-day fundraising event, so the date has been pushed back. So I urge you to please help with this…spread the word…that’s all I ask.

A BIG thank you to everyone who showed up (we collected 102 books that day!), and I hope you can pass this info along so the school benefits from whatever contribution people have to make.

To round it off, here’s a look at some pics from the event, where we’re mostly just having a laugh:

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Remember #autism even after #DubaiTwestival

At Dubai Twestival, I was given the wonderful opportunity to speak for a few minutes about autism, given my personal interest in it. I remember having a vague idea – a bullet point list if you will – of things I wanted to cover in the 2-4 minutes I was allotted. Problem was, once I started talking…well, autism is something I can talk about for ages, so I went along my own meandering path, going wherever my synapses were telling me to go.

So…now that I can put pen to paper (or fingers-to-keyboard-to-screen) and try not to get distracted emotionally (as I did in the middle of what I was saying at Twestival…remembering how society in general has treated us sometimes was painful), here’s what I want to say to everyone reading… 

As I mentioned while talking, the awareness among people in Dubai about special needs and autism is appalling. It really is. Granted, there is so much more awareness over the last few years…but remember, I’ve been around in Dubai for dog’s years. I was here when Karan was diagnosed, I was here in the late 1990s when there was no help for us, I was here in the 2000s when we’ve faced problems over getting him into a good school. The general public just doesn’t know what it is. Either they’ve never heard of autism, or they have some fandangled opinions about it. The textbook definition will tell you that autism is a lifelong developmental disability where the person has impaired communication skills and social interaction, and can indulge in repetitive behaviour or be obsessed with something. It’s true enough. However, there are so many other issues…readers of this blog will know we’ve dealt with non-verbal issues (Karan does not speak to communicate with us), clothing issues, food issues, self-help issues and so much more.

One VERY important thing: if you’ve met one person with autism…you’ve met one person with autism. Each person with autism comes with their own set of unique challenges. The standard definition is like an umbrella, if you will. While that definition holds true, you’ll find n-number of differences with each autistic person who overcome completely different obstacles.

Now I’d like to appeal to organizations and businesses within the community. With the current rates of autism (1 in 110 globally, think it’s 1 in 100 in UK, lower in other places), within the next 5-10 years, we, the society, will have on our hands a massive number of adults with autism. It’s an employment resource just waiting to be tapped (and here I acknowledge that sadly, there are some adults whose autism is severe enough that they cannot work throughout their lives). Like in the neuro-typical (NT) world (or all you so-called “normal” people out there), it works the same here: if you’re good at something, that’s where you would like to get some work. Just because a person has special needs doesn’t mean they cannot be a productive member of society. It is so important for people with special needs – not monetarily, mind you – to have a sense of self-respect and self-worth (and goodness knows a major chunk of society gives them no respect whatsoever). Employment is a way of enhancing self-esteem and self-worth, and gives dignity and acceptance to anyone. I know of a couple of organizations in the UAE that do take on interns with special needs and give them jobs, as part of a social responsibility program. My brother’s school is heavily involved in placing their older students with organizations such as banks and hotels. Students are also encouraged to focus on an activity that they are good at and can hold them in good stead when it comes to future employment. Yes, it’s a little bit of extra work, and extra training… but trust me, organizations will find that once the person knows what he/she has to do, they will not stop at anything to get it done for you. Think about it.

So please… don’t forget about autism. It’s here to stay… it’s the so-called NTs that need to adjust.