Skyrocketing education costs affect parents of special needs

Parents with special needs children are shelling out more than Dh100,000 annually for their education, excluding the tuition fee they pay for their neurotypical kids.

Several parents who have children with autism spoke to Khaleej Times on the financial burdens they are facing as insurance does not cover treatment for their kids. They are demanding that schools should consider covering the cost of Learning Support Assistance (LSA) and that an insurance programme should be launched for people of determination.

April McCabe and her husband have three children studying in Dubai, one of whom is autistic. The cost of their education adds up to Dh230,000.

Their son attends a special needs school, which costs Dh80,000 annually.

“The cost for school and support for a child who has special needs is still very expensive. Also, my other two children attend an American school, which tends to be higher than other curriculums,” McCabe said, who works as the Family Outreach Coordinator at Autism Rocks.

She also runs a popular social media page called ‘Autism Mom Dubai’ on Facebook.

The tuition fees for their children in grade 6 and grade 8 is Dh144,900. Her 15-year-old attends a special needs school because the family cannot afford the additional Dh50,000 cost for a LSA, which would allow her child to attend a mainstream school.

To save costs, the family purchases their stationery items from the US. They spent $300 (Dh1,102) on pens, pencils and notebooks for this year, as well as $800 on iPads, which are required by the American school here.

“Because my oldest attends a school, which doesn’t offer bus service, and both of us [parents] work full time, we’ve had to hire a driver which costs Dh3,500 per month.”

A Brazilian-French parent in Dubai, Michele Cristina Gambalonga, pays about Dh208,000 for her two children’s education, which also includes the cost of therapy sessions for her son with autism.

The tuition fees for her son with autism, who is in grade 4, costs Dh98,000 per year, Dh20,000 per year for speech therapy and Dh13,000 for occupational therapy. She also pays Dh50,000 for her daughter in FS1.

“The schools play with parents. They make us pay for the registration and in the end, they do not accept our children,” Gambalonga said. “We are alone here. We are begging the schools to accept our children. They say our kids have the right, but once the school refuses, we can’t do anything.”

A single parent in Dubai, Andrea Allen, looks after her son with autism and her neurotypical daughter.

Allen said she pays her LSA more than what her monthly income is – making it nearly impossible for her to cover the cost of her children’s education.

She pays Dh54,745 tuition fees for her son with autism, as well as Dh84,000 for an LSA per year. She also has to pay Dh48,231 for her daughter’s tuition fees.

“It is inane, inhuman, unnecessary and truly unacceptable. Our children deserve the same standard of education as their peers. However, they are frequently left with LSAs, overlooked and sidelined,” she said.

“For my child to attend school I have to provide a qualified LSA, which costs me Dh84,000 a year on top of my school fees. Yes, I believe the school fees are too expensive for us and most parents in the UAE. And I’m glad they have been capped, however, what I think needs to be done is somehow schools need to be incorporating the costs of LSA into their daily costs and budgets. Because to ask a parent like me, who is a single parent with two children (one of whom is challenged) to pay Dh84,000 for an LSA on top of school fees, therapies and medications, is just unbelievable.”