As the UAE aims to emerge as the world’s friendliest place for ‘people of determination’, expatriates are making valuable contributions to make society more inclusive for everyone.
One such expat is April McCabe who moved to Dubai due to her husband’s job in the Emirates in 2008.
The Tennessee native started a blog called Autism Mom Dubai five years ago to raise awareness about the condition, where she also shares snippets of her eldest son, Owen, to give everyone a glimpse of what it’s like for people who live with this condition and for their caregivers.
Through her blog, McCabe got in touch with other women who were also raising children like Owen.
With the help of other parents, McCabe started a basketball programme to help with the behavioural development of the kids and invited neurotypical teenagers to volunteer at the programme, allowing children with special needs to interact with typical peers that they otherwise don’t get a chance to do so with at their schools.
“We started the basketball about three years ago and I started this so my son could interact and socialise with typical peers,” McCabe told Sport360. “It helps them with gross motor skills, motor planning and co-ordination. Regular therapy can also help children with these skills, but it’s just not as fun.”
McCabe and all the other mothers could see a marked development in their child’s behavior and also found that the children looked forward to these sessions, therefore it was all-in-all, a great success.
However, the sessions proved to be helpful for the young volunteers as well who slowly began demonstrating higher human qualities that reflected in their own lives.
“We had a kid who was about to be kicked out from school, but one day the principal came to me and said that she didn’t know what I did, but that child had totally turned around and was being given an award for ‘most improved’. So, things like that really keep me going,” said McCabe.
“Also, how great it is that we have these teenagers, who could be doing anything else, but they come here every Friday consistently to volunteer. It really touches me,” an emotional McCabe added.
14-year-old Finn Bruchet regularly volunteers along with his brothers and insists that not only has it improved his own game but has taught him to communicate better and how to help others.
“It (volunteering) has really helped me with my self-confidence and taught me how to communicate and help my peers. Also, there is a sense of accomplishment in helping others who don’t have as much as you do,” the youngster said.
The group currently trains under coach Petros Krasopoulos, who is a professional coach at the Prestige Star Sports Academy (PSSA). The biggest challenge for him is to make sure that the children listen and follow his orders.
He said: “The main thing is to make sure that the kids stay focused and follow my orders. The volunteers help with that, but it is a challenge. The other challenge is to improve their physical skills and then comes actually working on the basketball fundamentals, like dribbling, passing, etc.
“By the end of the year we will try to get another academy to play a friendly match with the children. To be honest, we are a little far from this, but we will definitely try and make it happen.”.
McCabe is in the process of getting kits made for the children to make them feel like a proper team.
The basketball session is held every Friday, 5pm at Dunecrest American School.
For more information on the programme and to stay up to date with their activities, you can follow Autism Mom Dubai on Instagram and Facebook.