I had the privilege of meeting the lovely Tala Badri and her gorgeous kids Sara and Ali over the holidays.
I initially connected with Tala after watching her Tedx Talk about her daughter Sara. If you get a minute to watch it, please do as Tala is Emirati, and her perspective and attitude is refreshing. (I will provide a link at the end of this interview.)
I really enjoyed getting to know more about Sara's world as although I have recently learned a bit about Autism, I did not know very much about Asperger's (Sara was diagnosed when she was 2 years old). Thank you Sara for taking the time to share a bit of your passion for music with me, and to Tala for allowing me to tell this story.
Tala's interview about her daughter is candid, heartfelt, and inspiring. Please take a moment to read, and as this page is about advocating, educating, and mainstreaming beauty in difference, I encourage you to SHARE with others.
1) Tell us a little bit about your family (ie where are you from? how long have you lived in Dubai? about your children?)
We are an Emirati family - myself, Sara 14 and Ali 10. All born and brought up in Dubai. My father is Emirati and mum is Lebanese. The children's father is Emirati - we have been divorced for 4 years.
Sara and Ali go to a British school.
Sara was diagnosed at age 2 with PDD-NOD which is Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified. This essentially means that she was on the autism spectrum but there were some aspects that didn't fit exactly at the time. She was developing normally from a cognitive aspect but had sensory issues, slow motion skill development, never gave eye contact, had melt downs, didn't engage with people ....
We started therapy with Sara very early on as we were encouraged towards early intervention - ABA therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. We also used music therapy which was a big turning point in Sara's development as she really responded very well to that.
At age 6, Sara was officially diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.
2) How would you explain what Asperger's means?
The best description of Aspergers can be found here
I use this definition to help people understand more about Aspergers and Sara.
3) What have been your biggest challenges in raising Sara and getting to know who she is as an extraordinary person?
There have been many challenges over the years but the key ones have been essentially the stigma attached to having a child with a special need - and this has come in many different guises. We have been through challenging times with acceptance from extended family members of Saras condition - I have however been incredibly lucky to have such a supportive family, especially my mum and sister who have worked alongside me with Saras upbringing and supported her therapy and development. It was difficult with a few friends as well who shied away from having Sara around for fear of a melt down or tantrum and how to deal with that. It was extremely challenging getting her into mainstream schooling and keeping her there. It was challenging to finance the therapy she required over the last 12 years as we received no support from the government, health ministry or insurance.
It's been a long and tough road - it had impact on my marriage, my relationships with friends and work. But today, seeing Sara and what an amazing young individual she has become - it's been worth every tear, every frustration, every melt down we have all shared with her.
The challenges are still there - being a teenager is not easy as it is and it is especially challenging for one with Aspergers. Sara has had a very tough year at school dealing with teenage pressures of friendships or lack of them, pressures to conform, pressures of looming examinations and thoughts of further education. Anxiety levels are often high and dealing with them is a challenge.
Personally it has been challenging to find a work life balance as a single mother who runs her own business. I am constantly pushed and pulled in all directions and this is been particularly hard for me. I often feel very alone and tired as many do not understand the emotional, physical and financial pressures of dealing with work, a people centric business, a home, two children with very different needs, expectations of family and those of friends.
4)What have been the biggest gifts that have come out of these challenges?
Sara is an intelligent and sensitive individual. She is strong willed in terms of knowing what she likes and wants. She is a talented musician and actor - which is extraordinary considering that a few years ago she couldn't cope with being anywhere near a stage and would have a breakdown every time. When she sings, everyone listens. Her voice is just incredible and the songs she writes are heartfelt.
She is articulate when talking about things she is passionate about - music, drama, travel and humanitarian causes.
She has a deep sense of helping others. She will tell you that Nepal and Cambodia have been her favourite experiences because she got to work with under privileged children and loved it.
My biggest gift is Sara - when people say they don't know why they were put on this earth - I know. Sara was the reason for me to be here, to help her realize this potential of being an amazing individual. This is not to detract at all from my son who is also amazing - but Sara has to really fight to get to where she is today.
5) Do you feel that having a child with special needs impacts your relationships (friendships, marriage?)?
Absolutely. My marriage suffered greatly because of pressures of having a child with special needs. It was a significant contribution to the eventual separation but not the only cause. Having said that, today I have a very good relationship with my ex-husband and we talk often about Sara and her development using each other for support during challenging times.
I lost many friends because their misunderstanding of Sara and how best to accommodate her, but I have also gained new friends because of it and stronger friendships with those that have taken the time and made an effort to accept and understand Sara.
My family have always been there and been supportive and for that I am very fortunate.
6)What would you like the world to know about Sara?
I think what I said before answers this too.
Perhaps I can say what I wish for Sara instead?
And this would be what I feel any parent would want for their child and that is happiness.
She doesn't need to be successful, or rich or famous.
I want her to be at peace with a strong feeling of self worth and knowledge that she is incredibly loved and an extraordinary young lady.
To listen to Tala's Tedx Dubai Talk, click here