Friday, September 3, 2010

Kafr Bara school for autistic Arab children opens

By RUTH EGLASH 09/02/2010 05:12

The first school for autistic Arab children in the center of the country officially opened its doors Wednesday with a ceremony that included a visit from Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog.

The Center for Autism in Kafr Bara, near Petah Tikva, is run with assistance from the Education and Social Welfare ministries, as well as support from the local municipality and Alut, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children, among others. It will provide treatment and educational programs for children aged three through 21.“All children, including those that suffer from this type of disability, should be given the chance to become part of the community,” Kafr Bara Mayor Mahmoud Assi said in an interview Wednesday morning. “If they are not afforded this opportunity they will be alive, but not part of the world around them.”

Assi pointed out that there is a severe lack of awareness about autism in Israel’s Arab community and that a stigma exists surrounding the condition, which is also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder. It includes impairments in social interaction, imaginative activity, verbal and nonverbal communication skills.“Many parents are not aware of what resources are available to them or that a center such as ours even exists,” he said. “If they do not know that there is a center to help them then these children will basically remain ignored.”Information published by the new center, which started operating informally several months ago, stated that 14 autistic children from the surrounding area attend the school daily. The children just ended a two-week vacation.

While there are more than 60 similar facilities run by the Education Ministry countrywide, only a handful are aimed specifically at the Arab sector, said a spokeswoman for Alut. She pointed out that Alut runs family centers that provide similar treatments and after-school programs for those in various frameworks.

A social worker Mohammad Igbaria, who heads Alut’s outreach to the Arab community, said that along with poor awareness and stigmas surrounding autism, there is also a serious lack of Arab professionals working in this field.“There are very few Arabic speakers available to work [with autistic children] and that means there is a big gap between the Jewish and Arab sectors in helping those with autism,” he continued.

Kafr Bara’s mayor also highlighted the problem, saying that while the center is receiving support from the government and from Alut, it is still short on many resources, including qualified Arabic-speaking professionals to help the children and their parents. “We need to increase the staff and either widen the government’s involvement or find a charity to increase funding for this project,” he said.“I have no personal experience with autism but I believe that every child, especially those with a disability, should be helped as much as possible and therefore it’s important to encourage these projects,” Assi said.


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