Saudi Gazette – Despite the huge funds allocated to helping people with special needs, there is still a shortage of centers dedicated to caring for such people within the Kingdom.
As a result, many families feel they have little choice but to travel to Jordan and put their children in centers there. Al-Riyadh newspaper talked to a number of Saudi parents of disabled children to know about their plight.
Saudi father Al-Reed Al-Ruwaili said he had to apply for early retirement so that he could take his 7-year-old autistic son, Fahad, to Jordan for treatment. “We do not have specialized autism centers in Al-Jouf or in any part of the Kingdom’s northern region. I was left with no choice but to live in Jordan and be close to my son who goes to one of the centers there,” said Al-Ruwaili.
Jordan is home to 14 special needs centers that provide healthcare and educational services to help the physically challenged integrate into society and develop mental skills.
Al-Ruwaili hopes for autism centers to open in the northern part of the Kingdom that would spare families who have disabled children the trouble of having to travel to Jordan. Fahad’s mental and physical abilities have improved immensely since he joined the center.
Saudi mother Umm Muhammad believes that the fees that the few private rehabilitation centers in Riyadh charge are exorbitant and unaffordable for middle-class families. As a result, she says, she was left with no choice but to travel to Jordan.
“My son is autistic and I have put him up before in a center in Riyadh and paid a lot of money but he did not benefit from the program because the center did not have qualified therapists and specialists. He is doing well now in Jordan and I am happy for him. The only downside is that I feel homesick and miss home,” she said.
Ouwayed Al-Shammary and his wife had a similar experience. They took their son to Jordan and enrolled him in an autism academy and left their children at home in the Kingdom. “Everything is expensive in Jordan. I pay SR2,500 a month for a small apartment. Although the Saudi Attaché Office in Amman gives me SR4,500 a month, it is barely enough to get by,” said Al-Shammary.
“We have to bear the annoyance of traveling by car between the Kingdom and Jordan and stand in long lines at the border,” he added.
Dr. Naif Al-Zareh, head of the department in charge of disabled persons at the Saudi Cultural Attaché Office in Amman, said the Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health are working on improving and developing educational services for the physically challenged within the country.
“These are good signs. However, more needs to be done. The ministries will improve all services related to the disabled. Comparing the number of centers for the disabled is not the whole story. We have to have statistics about the types of disabilities people have so that we can build the right centers that properly serve the needs we have,” he said.
There are 891 male and female Saudi students with disabilities enrolled in specialized centers in Jordan, according to Dr. Muhammad Al-Qahtani, Saudi cultural attaché in Jordan. “The Saudi government spends SR100 million a year on tuition fees of these children and SR8 million on treating their disabilities,” he said.
“We follow up closely with the centers and ensure they provide top-notch services to students. This year, we removed three centers from the list of approved centers because their services proved to be unqualified and of low quality. Most of the 891 students are autistic and the rest have cerebral paralysis and mental, visual, physical and hearing disabilities,” he added.