Ahmad’s story: “We helped him believe in his abilities”

A training workshop for teachers working in Al-Buss refugee camp

by Wafa Dakwar, MAP’s Senior Programme Officer in Lebanon

In Lebanon Palestinian refugee children with learning difficulties face many challenges, especially in schools. Classrooms are overcrowded, and both teachers and students often lack awareness about learning difficulties and how to accommodate children with such needs. Sadly, those with learning difficulties are often bullied and called hurtful names.

These conditions have extremely negative effects on a child’s wellbeing and academic achievements. Lara, a Special Educator, works to challenge this at the Sour Community Disability Centre (SCDP)’s Early Intervention Unit, which is run by the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organisation (PWHO) in Al-Buss refugee camp and supported by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

On a recent visit to the Centre, Lara explained to me how she supported Ahmad, a nine-year old Palestinian child with Dyslexia and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, to believe in his own abilities:

When I first started working with Ahmad, I noticed that he is a hardworking child and he tries his best to study and answer questions correctly. He expresses himself clearly and chooses words carefully. Ahmad is creative in telling stories and drawing. However, he showed difficulties in following instructions, reading, and making a connection between letters and sounds. Ahmad also avoided reading aloud and making eye contact.

“My intervention plan focused on working on three dimensions: the child, the family, and the school. For Ahmad, I tried to enhance his self-confidence as he used to feel shy to read or communicate. I also worked to enhance his learning abilities through an Individualised Education Program (IEP) that suits his needs, difficulties, eliminates avoidance, and, most importantly, builds passion and perseverance! This is built when the child believes that despite difficulties, if they keep trying, they will eventually succeed. I tried to teach Ahmad that what really matters is that he is learning and making progress regardless of how it compares to the other students or whether he passes or fails.

“Working with Ahmad’s mother, Laila, was challenging. She was very frustrated at the beginning- which is understandable as every parent wishes to see their child succeed. However, Laila was putting lots of pressure on Ahmad, overwhelming him with instructions, and overreacting to minor issues. She was complaining about his slow progress and neglecting the efforts Ahmad was making. It was important that Laila attended the sessions together with Ahmad to observe how the other therapist and I were working with him. Laila also started attending individual counselling sessions with the project’s psychologist to help her better cope with the circumstances.

“At the start of the school year, I paid three visits to the Ahmad’s school and then continued to visit periodically throughout the year. At the beginning, the teachers were complaining about his lack of attention, behavioural issues, and not making eye contact. All the teachers said that Ahmad responded well in one-to-one communications but did not do well within a group. After working with Ahmad in individual centre-based sessions and with the teachers to help them better understand and respond to his needs, Ahmad started showing good improvements. His reading and writing skills improved and he became more self-confident. At the end of the year, Ahmad scored well on his final exams and passed his class. We were very glad especially because we helped him believe in his abilities and encouraged him to work even harder.

“Dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities do not have to prevent children from achieving their full potential. In fact, some of the world’s most successful people are dyslexic.”

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