UAE Portrait of a Nation: Student dreams of helping autistic children

SHARJAH // Like many 21-year-olds, Palestinian Nour Khalid enjoys movies, swimming and keeping fit but her ambition is what sets her apart from her peers. Ms Khalid hopes to launch Tayf School for Autistic Children, which would be the first custom-designed school in the UAE for autistic children and one that uses the humanoid robot […]

SHARJAH // Like many 21-year-olds, Palestinian Nour Khalid enjoys movies, swimming and keeping fit but her ambition is what sets her apart from her peers.

Ms Khalid hopes to launch Tayf School for Autistic Children, which would be the first custom-designed school in the UAE for autistic children and one that uses the humanoid robot Nao.

The graphic design and multimedia graduate of the College of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Sharjah dedicated five months of her life to research, write down and polish the Tayf School graduation project on paper. Four more months were spent on art and design work.

“This project sums up my ambition in life because I want to extend a helping hand in spreading awareness among parents of autistic kids who have lost hope and some of them believe their kids will never be cured or improve,” said Ms Khalid.

The school’s main goal will be to provide therapy to autistic children in an environment designed to help them demonstrate their abilities and potential, with the help of the French-made autonomous, programmable robot.

“The robot’s behaviour can be customised to suit different scenarios. Consequently, it has the capability to offer a simpler interaction with the children. These two complementing factors make robots an ideal medium to be used in autism therapy,” she said.

Ms Khalid added that for children with an autism spectrum disorder, body language and facial gestures carry a huge amount of information that can sometimes be overwhelming.

“This task could be extremely complex for ASD children and can affect their interaction with the caregiver. Hence, the simplified, human-like face of the Nao robot will help children easily interpret its social signals and, in particular, they will pay more attention to its non-verbal communicative cues. In addition, the therapy sessions’ cost can be reduced, since the robot is able to reprogramme easily.”

Ms Khalid said the robot can use applications that will allow the children to improve their verbal and non-verbal communication skills, as well as help build their emotional intelligence and basic academic skills.

Ms Khalid, who considers her father a role model, hopes that one day someone will adopt her project and turn it into reality.

She has five siblings, all of whom she says are supported and encouraged by their parents to dream and work towards making a difference in people’s lives.

Her autism project, which was done under the supervision of Dr Shaima Elbardawil, was showcased at the 2015/2016 graduation projects exhibition at Sharjah University. Ms Khalid was awarded for the project at a graduation ceremony.

salamir@thenational.ae

Source: uae news

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