Emad and his mother in Bahrain.
Brent Elder

Meeting My Second Bahraini Family

On June 26, I had another initial planning meeting with the second Bahraini family I will be working with this summer. The mother feels it could be autism that caused her son’s speech to dissipate; the father is not ready to go in that direction. Either way, I was at their house to discuss a plan of action to help their little boy, whom we will call Emad, to start using his speech.

The mother, her son, and I had a very pleasant conversation en route to their home. I was impressed at their ability to speak and understand English. Once we arrived at their house, I found that they had prepared an extensive meal on my behalf! There were traditional dishes from Iran, Bahrain, and India, not to mention the fresh naan, vegetables, and dessert! This type of meal would not be prepared for me at my family home even if I had been away for years! The family insisted they would have enjoyed this meal whether I had been there or not.

Almost immediately, Emad’s father began asking me why I wanted to come to the Middle East, being that there are many terrorists here. He gave a wink to let me know he was joking (thankfully). I explained that I felt this region was just as safe, if not safer than many other parts of the world. He went on to say that he really likes Americans, just not the select few who represent our government. He presumed I felt the same about the Iranian government (his family is of Iranian descent) as there are sadly a few in power who speak for the collective. I explained to him that I agreed, and that I felt extremely lucky to be in the Middle East, and that I am in the unique position to present an image about the this region that does not promote terrorism or war.

A student named Emad in Bahrain.
Brent Elder

As we finished lunch, we shared a few laughs over the absurd driving abilities of the Bahrainis-he emphasized Bahraini women in particular, I had no comment.

We went on to discuss the needs of his son. If you are given a label in Bahrain (e.g., Down syndrome, autism, mental retardation), oftentimes you are immediately placed into a special school. While talking about their son’s inability to communicate through speech and develop more appropriate social skills, I found that their biggest fear was that their son would be placed in a segregated setting because he acts and learns in nontraditional ways. I feel this parental concern transcends all cultures, no matter the ability level of the child. Their strength to follow through with this inclusive mentality is a brave act in this part of the world. I hope our plan works for them.

I expressed my desire to get him into an inclusive setting (e.g., a regular school) and keep him there. If a child with special needs is not given the opportunity to succeed in “typical” settings, then he/she never will. It is a Catch 22 of sorts. We decided that they would place their son in a private school, and that I would conduct trainings with the faculty and staff on how to properly include all students, with all ability levels, within any curriculum. I have been granted access to Emad’s school, so this is a step in the right direction! This is a huge breakthrough as it is typically difficult to gain access to schools as a male in the Middle East.

My First Presentation on Inclusion in Bahrain

On July 2, I spoke in the afternoon at a private preschool that the little three-year-old boy, Emad, attends. This private school is open to having students with special needs enroll in their program, so Dr. Bradshaw and I encouraged Emad’s parents to enroll him.

It is quite typical for a school in Bahrain to cite their “anti-inclusion” policy when they hear there is a student with special needs. The result of this is that the students are pushed into a school exclusively for children with special needs (e.g., the former Devereux near UCSB). I was shocked to hear that this is how schools operate in Bahrain. The severity of the disability has no bearing on weather or not they will be admitted; if a student creates a challenge, they are sent to a special school. This is exactly why I am in Bahrain, to help change this education practice.

After learning how the education system works in Bahrain, my first inclusive presentation had more gravity. Firstly, men are not always allowed in schools in Bahrain, and secondly, many schools do not want to hear about inclusion because it will shake their schools from their exclusive foundations.

I was lucky enough to speak to the administration, faculty, and support staff, after their day ended at noon. I briefly went over the definition of inclusion and why it was important, etc. Then we went over a sample of their preschool day and included hypothetical students with special needs throughout their typical routines. All went well. Fortunately there was a mother in attendance who has a son with autism who currently attends the school!

After the presentation, she came up to me to talk about inclusive practices in Bahrain. She is worried that her son will not have a place to learn, simply because he has autism. She has enrolled him in a British private school next year, but she was told they would not mention his special needs so he can attend. They too are a “selective school” and can accept and deny students as they see fit! She spoke of the thousands of parents in Bahrain who have no options because of this “selective school” policy which ultimately means the schools are incapable of supporting, and unwilling to support students with special needs. This is precisely why we need to include these students! If these students do not have access to typical environments, they will never learn to thrive in them!

After our enlightening discussion, the mother and I exchanged e-mail addresses, and she said she expressed an interest to share her story with the The Santa Barbara Independent! As I continue to work at the school, I told her I would help support her and her son, and advocate for her son’s inclusion in anyway that I could.

I hope her comments make it onto this blog as her story is very powerful, and highlights exactly what kinds of changes need to occur throughout the world for individuals with special needs.

For Brent’s previous posts, see here and here.


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