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Ahsan's success story...

Netflix fanatics have become obsessed with Robia Rashid's Atypical dramedy series which focuses on the life of 18-year-old Sam Gardner who is on the autism spectrum, writes Mai Al Khatib-Camille.

The show drew in a huge fan base that helped raise awareness about autism, what someone on the spectrum endures in daily life and how families support their child and cope with the disorder as well.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication. The reason it is called a spectrum disorder is because each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. No two people on it are necessarily alike.

While this is a fictional show featuring the remarkable achievements made by someone living on the spectrum, the kingdom has its own version of Sam Gardner proving that people with all abilities can be included in the workplace.

Ahsan Zulfiqar, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and has a mild case of pervasive developmental disorder, has been working in various hospitals and companies within the kingdom to further raise awareness about the importance of inclusivity as well as getting a chance to build his career path.

His father Zulfiqar Ahmed Tanoli, a manager, and mother Ruqia, have been supporting him every step of the way, along with his life coaches Kay King and Anandi Sailesh.

Kay worked with him on specific goals, developing his confidence and his readiness for work along with his personal, social and independence skills. Ahsan developed a passion for cooking and incorporated his computer skills and photography to compile a cook book called What's cooking with Ahsan.

Kay, who is no longer living in Bahrain, said: My philosophy for parents caring for children with special needs is to always have faith and to never give up! Ahsan is growing each day in self-confidence and inclusion into society is so important which raises positive awareness all around the GCC."

Anandi became his coach from 2015 to 2019. She said: "As a behaviour therapist, my goal was to promote independent living skills where we worked on personal hygiene skills such as bathing, brushing his teeth, etcetera.

"Then we moved on to environmental skills such as folding clothes, making beds, cooking simple meals, the use of technology such as email, Facebook, WhatsApp, and simple appliances such as a kettle and washing machine.

"I trained him in various applications such as MS Office (Level 1 & 2), Adobe Photoshop and Tally9.0 in which he successfully achieved certifications. We were also continuously engaged in fun activities such as music, karate and drawing, to improve his creative skillset."

Ahsan created paintings and printed various t-shirts with his personalised drawings and sold them at various stalls in Bahrain. He also has his very own Facebook page called Ahsan Creations.

Anandi's final goal was to showcase his skills within the community to inspire other differently-abled individuals.

This 'make-it-happen' attitude led her to launch her own YouTube channel called Special Families Support Adult Group. Its aim is to promote the acceptance of differently-abled individuals into the workplace.

She added: "I am very glad that companies such as McDonald's in Fakhro tower, Royal Bahrain Hospital and Al Qaseem Stationary helped giving workplace exposures. I look back with my head held high and heart full of beautiful memories with Ahsan."

Ahsan first started working in American Mission Hospital's (AMH) records department in Manama for six months. He then interned at the fast food chain's Human Resource department for two months working on data entry.

He also joined the Royal Bahrain Hospital (RBH) working in the auditing and insurance department. He is working twice a week at RBH together with two more people with special needs. His mum is with him as well. He is now also working at AMH.

His mum hopes this will encourage others to offer inclusivity in the workplace as well as motivate the differently-abled.

Ruqia, who is one of the initial members of the Special Families Support Group (SFS group) in Bahrain, which aids families of children with different-abilities, said: "There should be more flexibility and acceptance for jobs for these special adults. We need to provide them with a better environment full of understanding.

"Accept them in society, open more doors of opportunities for these special children and adults. They are not difficult, but different. Ahsan, for example, loves to work on computers so our main aim was to get him ready for any computer related job."

His parents are also looking for modeling jobs with different brands and companies to promote his art work on shirts, tights and caps. Ahsan was part of the Bahrain Special Olympics for three years as well.

"Our main vision is to inspire people," Ruqia added. "Children with disabilities can do wonders and we just need to provide them with the right opportunities and quality of time. Never give up. Help your child shine by offering them with whatever resources you may have. We should utilise their full potential by thinking outside of the box. There are no shortcuts. Believe in yourself and work hard."

Ruqia encourages people to dig deep and support SFS with funding and workshops as well as offering services and their time to help arrange more training and seminars for parents and their differently-abled children.

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Feb 4, 2020
Words:917
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