The program, which is in line with Qatar’s National Autism Plan, enables children with autism to take part in a range of fun and healthy activities in Doha during the summer months, and consists of swimming classes and horse riding lessons at locations across Education City.
The six-week swimming program, which commenced on July 13, is the first time WISH and QF Recreation Services have collaborated on such a community program. The horse riding program will run throughout August with the support of the Equine Education division at Al Shaqab.
WISH, an initiative of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), created the program of activities mindful that Qatar’s National Autism Plan focuses on the need to engage autistic children through activities that take place outside of the classroom. Since it was established in 2012, WISH has made autism one of its priority areas for evidence-based research, and has produced reports, held expert panels, and led initiatives in this area of healthcare. Through events, such as its summer program, WISH is ensuring that Qatari society benefits from the global research work it conducts.
The most recent WISH research report on autism, published in 2016, highlights ways of establishing better support for children with autism and the need to tackle the societal and cultural barriers that autistic children and their families face.
Sultana Afdhal, Partnerships and Outreach Manager, WISH, said: “At WISH we consider it vital that, wherever possible, the research we participate in results in a direct positive impact in Qatar. When I met the mothers from the Qatar Autism Families Association two years ago, their biggest concern was that their children had nowhere safe and accessible to play sports. Our research and the Qatar National Autism Plan have highlighted the need to help address issues such as social isolation by providing activities for children with autism. We hope our summer program will begin to address that need and benefit both families of children with autism and the children themselves.”
A large number of Qatari families have attended the twice-weekly, two-hour swimming sessions, and nearly 50 children made use of the opportunity to swim and play in the water during the first session. At each session, WISH and QF Recreation Services staff have been present in order to provide information and support to the families.
Manal El-Deeb, Chair at QAFA and one of the Qatari mothers attending the swimming sessions, commented: “It’s very important that autistic children are given the chance to take part in this sort of activity; these children are full members of our society and they have the right to equal opportunities to take part in healthy activities and interact with other children.
“I want to thank WISH for organizing this activity and Qatar Foundation for allowing us to use their facilities. We are delighted that such a large number of children and their parents are benefiting from the program.”
The WISH 2016 autism report is available to read via the WISH website: http://www.wish-qatar.org/wish-2016/forum-reports