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Friday, 23 April 2021 08:16 GMT

UAE- 'Peer power' strengthens life of autistic children


(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) More than 15 Dubai students are volunteering to spend their time to people of determination, in hopes that it will help autistic children gain some peer interaction.

The kind-hearted gesture is part of the Peer Power Rocks initiative, with support from Autism Rocks, and was formed to encourage the youth to volunteer and take part in sport activities with people of determination.

Fouad Abboud, 16, recently played basketball with a few autistic children who visited his school, the Universal American School, as part of the initiative. The Canadian-Lebanese student told Khaleej Times that this experience was "a real eye-opener" for him.

"When I got the opportunity to meet the special needs kids, it was great, because I have never been around special needs kids and I wanted to establish a relationship with them," he said. "My mission for going was to get familiar with what autism is and how it affects the kids. I wanted to learn more about it and enjoy my time with them."

Abboud said that initially he was a bit "stressed out" about volunteering because he did not know what his role would entail, however, he feels the experience changed his perception and helped him learn many new things.

"We played basketball together and when we talked, we got along and when they scored in the basketball, they showed emotion in a very interesting way. It has really changed my perception for people with special needs and it was a real eye-opener. For us teens, we don't spend a lot of time with them. We hear about it and we say it's a great cause, but we never get to experience it. But now I know, it's a life-changing experience."

There are 15 other students from the Universal American School who are taking part in this initiative, as part of their IB-Diploma. The initiative encourages schools to invite over people with determination to their schools and engage with students.

The idea of Peer Power Rocks was launched by an American expat, April McCabe, who works at the Autism Rocks Centre and was looking for outlets where her 14-year-old autistic son can engage in activities with other peers.

"What the vision is that most children like my son - who is a special needs boy - are not allowed to attend mainstream school, so they don't get the neuro-typical peer interaction that they would typically get in a school," she said. "This means the only friends they have are those with special needs. So, I was looking for an outlet for my son.

"From a parent's standpoint, kids with autism can learn social skills from neuro-typical children. When they're younger, they can learn how to play. For example, when my son was pre-K in the US, he didn't know how to climb down the slide, but after a week of watching some of the other kids doing it, he finally went and tried to slide. So, kids with autism lack social skills. For neuro-typical kids, it's teaching them how to be empathetic, understanding and be leaders as well."

The Autism Rocks Centre is encouraging other schools to get involved and join the initiative.


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