Supporting Arabic Families
In the summer of 2015, Amel Alawami, then a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatric Fellow at Tufts Medical Center, met with an Arabic couple whose child had Autism. A Saudi native with a pediatric degree from Baylor College of Medicine, Amel had been drawn to the special needs population while working as a pediatrician in her home country. But this was her first time assisting an Arabic family in the United States. Through her search for available resources, she found the Federation, which, as it happened, was beginning a program to connect with Arabic families across Massachusetts. Over the coming years, Amel would work with our Parent Training and Information Center to create language-specific outreach materials and translate lectures from the Family TIES program, but perhaps her most important contribution was helping organize an Arabic strand for our 2017 Visions of Community conference.
The Arabic community represents just over 1% of Massachusetts’ population, approximately 75,000 individuals, and includes people from many countries and faith traditions. Amel had already started an Arab family support group called “Ousraty” (which means “My Family”), to help parents navigate our complex medical and educational systems. The group met monthly to participate in workshops and self-care sessions, and Amel hoped to create a similar welcoming space for families of children with special needs at the conference. Her advice was instrumental in eliminating potential barriers. She knew that securing presenters with a high degree of cultural competency would be a key component, as parents might be struggling to align their own societal norms with the challenges of raising a child, especially a child with disabilities, in America. Likewise, she knew that it would be important to provide families with a location for prayer throughout the day, as she had spoken with women who said they would be nervous about not being able to pray through the whole event.
With Amel’s help, we were able to offer workshops tailored to the unique needs and concerns of the community. One focused on caring for children with behavioral issues and the challenges it can present for the parent-child relationship, while another, dealing specifically with cross-cultural disparities, was interesting even to conference volunteers who were NOT parents! The families were so engaged that Amel suggested we build in more “one-on-one” time with Arabic parents, to answer questions and discuss support strategies. She also reported that attendees were thrilled to explore offerings from conference exhibitors, calling the experience an “eye-opener” for families that would not typically attend this type of event.
We at the Federation are excited to continue offering workshops and materials for the Arabic community. We are grateful to Amel for her assistance and support, and wish her all the best as she completes her fellowship and moves forward to help other families of children with special needs.