A school offering a free basic secular and religious education for children with autism has opened in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Mustaqbal school, thought to be the only school catering for autistic children in Somalia, was started by Dr Rahma Abdulqadir Mohamed, a psychologist.
She came up with the idea after meeting mothers with autistic children, who did not know where to take them for education. The school assesses the applicants and takes the children it can support, depending on their level of need.
“There are children who faint and those who fight with others, and we are unable to enroll such children because we don’t have the capacity to accommodate them,” Rahma explained.
Hani Ali Garun, a resident of Mogadishu, enrolled her 11-year-old autistic son at the school, after finding it on Facebook when it opened in January 2021. Her son is responding well.
“My child likes the school a lot. In the morning he wakes up happy and gets ready for school without any help,” Hani told Ergo.
“Before, he used to be gloomy when he saw his siblings going to school, but now he is eating and even going to the washroom on his won without anyone’s help. I have seen a huge change in him since he joined this school.”
Mustaqbal has enrolled 20 students aged between four and 12 years. There are four classes, each with two teachers.
Siham Abdulqadir, one of the eight all female teachers at the school, described the learning methods they use.
“We teach them through things they like. Some of the students learn well through pictures while others learn through listening. We combine both methods,” Siham told Radio Ergo.
“Sometimes we take the children outside and play with them. As teachers we always need to understand the needs of the students as they can’t explain themselves very well.”
The school is currently based in a rented building with enough room to accommodate 40 students. Due to lack of funds, they have started with just 20. The founder, Dr Rahma, said she spends about $3,000 a month on the teachers’ salaries, rent, and school bus and food that are provided free to the children. She is hoping to find donors to support the school that so far depends on her own finances.
There is no official data on children in Somalia with autism, which is a condition barely recognised by many people. Rahma estimates based on global figures that there could be hundreds of thousands of autistic children in Somalia.