The Ministry of Community Development and Image Nation collaborate to educate UAE school children about autism

May 2017 Sharifa Yateem, an Emirati Applied Behavioral Analyst from Image Nation’s documentary AS ONE: The Autism Project, has conducted workshops in three schools across Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Fujairah in May

The UAE’s Ministry of Community Development and Image Nation Abu Dhabi, one of the leading media and entertainment companies in the region, have formed a partnership to educate school children about autism. The move came as part of April’s Autism Awareness month and The UAE Year of Giving.

The two entities embarked on a three-date roadshow in May across the Northern Emirates, including government schools in Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Fujairah, conducting lectures and workshops for primary and secondary school children, parents and teachers. The workshops were headed up by Sharifa Yateem, the UAE’s only Emirati Applied Behavioural Analyst and lead specialist in Image Nation’s documentary AS ONE: The Autism Project.

With students, Sharifa gave lectures on what autism is and what it means to be different using specially created video clips made by Image Nation. Additionally, she conducted workshops with leadership pupils on how to identify fellow students with autism and include them in the community.

Commenting on the collaboration between the Ministry and Image Nation, Her Excellency Undersecretary of the Ministry Sana Mohammed Sohil said: “the Ministry of Community Development exerts a great effort to rehabilitate and fully integrate autistic patients into Emirati society.” Ms. Sohil also stated that “the Ministry dedicates special attention to educating parents and society in general about the nature of the disease and to circulating the correct and scientific methods of working with autistic patients, especially children. The ultimate goal here is to help these patients move forward and advance their lives. The Ministry therefore always cooperates with government and private agencies in the country to best support autistic patients, increase their productivity, and integrate them in Emirati society.”

Ms. Sohil added that “the Ministry’s effort to support autistic patients manifests itself in different ways: the Ministry has launched a wide range of initiatives and programs, most notably the app ‘Connection’ to strengthen communication with autistic patients. Also, the Ministry regularly organizes specialized workshops and training sessions on the medical coverage and the treatment available for autistic patients. Furthermore, the Ministry intends to sign an agreement of cooperation with Abu Dhabi University to launch the Autism Diploma Program. We are confident that these programs will improve life for autistic patients. Therefore, we encourage all stakeholders to offer more initiatives and events to further support autistic patients.”

The Ministry has also recently launched "Nomow”, the first Arab app for early autism intervention. It markets this app through the video As One to raise awareness about the importance of early intervention and to offer needed support for parents when mild autism symptoms are detected in an early stage.

Additionally, AS ONE was distributed to class teachers as a learning tool along with a discussion guide to be worked on in the future in class. Following the roadshow in schools, the aim of the Ministry of Community Development is to take the initiative to universities in the UAE.

Sharifa Yateem, Applied Behavioural Analyst at the New England Centre for Children said: “I was honoured to take the workshops to schools in the UAE and teach children what it means to have autism and how they can interact with children who have it. This is a very important issue and since the film was released it have been an instrumental tool in raising awareness of autism in the UAE and across the globe”.

AS ONE: The Autism Project directed by Hana Makki, was first released in 2014 and released on iTunes on World Autism Day (April 2) in 2016. The documentary feature film follows a diverse group of young children at various levels on the autism spectrum. Filmed entirely in the UAE, the documentary brought together a group of expat and Emirati children as they strived to put on a musical theatre production for friends and family. The film has been praised for giving a unique view of the condition and has travelled the world as an awareness tool since its release.

Currently 1 in 68 children have autism and it is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the modern world, particularly amongst young boys.Autism effects every child in different ways, depending on where they are on the spectrum. The UAE have committed to supporting autism within the community including the recently announced care network under the ‘Dubai Declaration for Autism’.

In addition to the school roadshow, the Ministry and Image Nation hosted a special screening of AS ONE at NYU Abu Dhabi on April 18th. Following the screening there was a Q&A with Sharifa Yateem, documentary director and producer Hana Makki and a parent of a child with autism.

The film was also screened on April 25th in Washington DC, co-hosted by the US Office of Autism Research Coordination at the National Institutes of Health. Again, Sharifa Yateem and Hana Makki participated in a post-screening panel discussion.  

Danielle Perissi, Head of Documentary & Factual Entertainment at Image Nation Abu Dhabi said:"With autism on the rise all around the globe, raising awareness is more important than ever.  Image Nation is proud to partner with the Ministry on this innovative program to reach children in the UAE.  The continued relevance of AS ONE is a testament to film’s unique power to inspire and educate and we look forward to sharing this film with audiences at home and abroad.”

AS ONE was the first feature length documentary to be added to Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s slate. Since then, the filmed media company’s documentary division has also produced the critically acclaimed polio documentary EVERY LAST CHILD and co-produced HE NAMED ME MALALA, the documentary about Nobel peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

AS ONE: The Autism Project is available to rent or download on iTunes. For more information on the film visit www.imagenationabudhabi.com

The learning app ‘Growth’ from the Ministry of Community Development is available to download from the iStore and Android.