Everyone wants the best possible educational outcome for their child. However, what do parents do if discover their child is floundering rather than flourishing? What if they notice the child is significantly less adept than his or her peers, or not reaching developmental milestones on time?
We all know early intervention, means a child is more likely to reach his or her full potential, and therefore in situations like those above, it’s usually recommended that parents seek an educational psychology assessment or SEN (Special Educational Needs) diagnosis to analyse just what might be causing the developmental delay.
Most parents who find themselves in this situation say they feel anxious and out of their depth. For many this is further exacerbated if they happen to be expats. Far from home, they keenly feel their lack of support system and a poor knowledge of UAE’s health and education policy only compounds this isolation and fear.
Dubai at the present time lacks much of the legal framework for SEN diagnosis and assessment that countries like the UK and US have had in place for years. The implication of this is that parents both local and expat, can often experience sub-standard service provision during the evaluation and reporting process.
Today, although there’s a whole host of paediatricians, psychologists and diagnostic centres offering SEN diagnosis and assessments, how do the UAE’s parents know what they are buying before they part with their hard earned cash?
What is a quality diagnosis and assessment?
For many parents, the diagnostic process is all about pinpointing the correct ‘label’ for their child’s condition. However, for educators this is usually irrelevant. Firstly, experienced teachers have extensive knowledge of children’s behaviour and say in the vast majority of cases they already know which SEN the child is presenting, although they are not legally permitted to diagnose or even discuss these beliefs.
For professionals having a label is often irrelevant too. They understand that every child with autism or ADHD is different, as are all children with special educational needs. SEN is never a one size fits all diagnosis and therefore, more important for educators than the ‘label’ is the remainder of the report. This details the strengths of the individual child and recommend how those involved in the child’s development can target their interventions for optimal results.
In fact, at The Developing Child Centre (TDCC) in Umm Suqeim, they believe that by naming child’s specific SEN they are actually doing the child a disservice. Staff believes it can not only limit the child developmentally but alters how those around him or her behave. By removing the diagnostic element of the report altogether and focusing entirely on the strengths and recommendations, staff believe they can offer the very best analysis and strategy for that child.
SEN assessments should be multidisciplinary and involve the child’s paediatrician, a psychologist/neurologist, if needed a psychiatrist and numerous other therapists as and when required. It should take several weeks; involve recognised and internationally used tests and contain a period of observation, ideally at home, at school and at play.
Whether parents and professionals choose to label a diagnosis or not, everyone involved should be aware that the most important and non-negotiable part of the report is the functional recommendations. However, in Dubai this is not always the case.
“Ultimately, each child is different and while diagnoses are helpful, well and good, sometimes it’s less about a label and more about understanding your child and what works and doesn’t work for him/her. Bottom line we want to figure out what helps this particular child grow and develop to that he can manage and enjoy life in school and at home to the best of his/her potential,” says Dr Nadia Taysir Dabbagh, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, at Camali Clinic, Dubai.
• Before starting any assessment speak to the child’s teachers
• Next stop is the child’s paediatrician for a full medical. A concentration problem could be an undiagnosed hearing impairment, or a reading delay could actually be caused by poor vision.
• Get a comprehensive check-up before proceeding with a specialist behaviour diagnosis.
• Get clued up on medical insurance. Call the child’s medical insurer and ask about what is and isn’t covered and any restrictions on coverage. Many parents find out too late that their insurers only cover the cost of diagnosis if the child has been referred by a medical professional.
• Ask the child’s school who they recommend for diagnosis. They will have seen many children with SEN and received numerous reports over the years each of varying degrees of quality; they know what they want to receive if they plan to optimise your child’s learning!
During the consultation:
• Check if the specialist you are seeing is licensed. Current health regulations in Dubai mean that it is not a legal requirement to be a psychologist to diagnose special educational needs.
• Ask about their specialty- this matters! If they are not experienced and educated in children’s mental health issues, move on and find someone who is!
• Do they work as part of a multi-disciplinary team?
• Is their practice evidence based?
• Are they keeping up to date?
• What guidelines do they follow?
• Clarify anything you do not understand.
• Think about how the centre or clinic makes you feel. Do you feel confident? Do you trust the staff? Do they make you feel like you have been understood?
• Take ALL medical reports you have or any other findings that have brought you to the centre.
• Ask them about the report, how long it will take to compile, which tests they will use, will it be comprehensive?
Although consultations in many countries can take four to six weeks, in Dubai due to the nature of the private healthcare system, this is usually reduced to an average of two to four. However, any less than two weeks and it’s likely that the quality of the assessment will be compromised.
Diagnosis is not cheap. Most quality assessments cost around 5000 AED to 8000 AED+. Government hospitals do offer a significantly cheaper option, however their reporting offers less assessment and fewer recommendations. The Developing Child Centre in Umm Suqeim a not for profit organisation, does on occasion offer subsidised and high quality and comprehensive reports.
The final report is not the end of the journey- but the beginning. Look beyond the medical jargon and it should offer a comprehensive outline of how the child is ‘presenting.’ This then allows educators and therapists to understand where exactly they need to start interventions. It should also list strengths, especially learning strengths to give educators the information they need to start developing any IEPs (individual Education Plan), begin differentiation of the curriculum and know what type of additional support the child will require to succeed.
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Dubai Special Educational Needs - What is ADHD?
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