Autistic children play in the Hadramout Foundation For Autism, September 14, 2023 (for South24 Center by HFFA’s media department)

200 Autistic Children of Hadramout Foundation are at Risk of Being Abandoned


Sat, 04-11-2023 05:53 PM, Aden

 The cessation of HFFA’s activities will be a humanitarian and social disaster. The local authorities should bear responsibility for these children and they must intervene to solve this problem.

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

Autistic children who have come from different governorates to the Hadramout Foundation For Autism (HFFA) are suffering due to the government's apathy. Despite being the first such institution that helps in the education and rehabilitation of children suffering from autism, HFFA is sadly staring at closure.

Autistic children play in HFFA, September 14, 2023 (for South24 Center by HFFA’s media department) 

At least 138 employees at HFFA have failed to get permanent status for their jobs in spite of the important role they play. This has pushed them to seek job contracts, with the governorate’s local authority. While 62 of HFFA's staff were able to do so, 76 female teachers, who play a key role in handling and training the autistic children, have not yet been given job contracts.

On October 1, 2023, female teachers and male employees of HFFA organized a protest in front of the governorate’s headquarters in Mukalla, with the participation of some children’s families. They demanded secure job contracts like that being offered in other educational centers founded in the footsteps of HFFA.

A peaceful protest organized by HFFA’s female teachers who demanded their right to secure job contracts, Mukalla, October 1, 2023 (for South24 Center by HFFA’s media department) 

The government has turned a deaf ear to the employees’ demands. Faced with an expected staff crunch, around 130 autistic children, including boys and girls, of a total 200, stare at a bleak future. They face the likelihood of being turned away and the loss of the education and rehabilitation opportunities that the institution provides, HFFA’s Director General Abdullah Basamad said in an exclusive interview with ’South24 Center’.

A leading institution

HFFA was founded in November 2012 under the name of ’Hadramout Association For People With Mental Disabilities‘. It was the first non-profit charitable organization in the field of rehabilitating children with all degrees of mental disabilities across the governorate. Later in 2014, its name was changed to ’The Hadramout Association For Autism’.

In 2017, it was changed again to ’The Hadramout Foundation For Autism’. Basamad said: “At that time, we received support from some civil society organizations. In 2017 and 2018, we organized several specialized training courses for the staff of the other autism centers in Hadramout with the help of Egyptian and Jordanian experts hired by the foundation.”

He added that “thanks to the intensified and complete training provided by HFFA, now there are specialized and professional staff across Yemen, mostly females. In the case of HFFA, while we have 138 employees, we still need more to provide better services.”

Part of the training courses organized by HFFA for autism organizations in the coast and valley of Hadramout in Mukalla, May 13, 2018 (for South24 Center by HFFA’s media department) 

Elaborating on the situation, Basamad pointed out that autistic children require a lot of attention, and therefore the maximum number of children in any class ranges between 7-12. These children need the constant presence of teachers as they are hyperactive.

Along with the regular classes, Basamad said that HFFA has a ‘Behavior Modification Department’ and another one for developing communication skills. Around 200 children are trained in these departments for half an hour every day. They also spend 20 minutes in the ‘Department of Sensory Integration’.

“This justifies our need for a large number of staff. We basically focus on individual work. Every child is assessed separately by a specialized team. We then design a proper plan according to each case,” he said. 

A female teacher in HFFA monitors the way an autistic child eats, September 14, 2023 (for ‘South24 Center’ by HFFA’s media department)

The lack of jobs and funding

HFFA doesn't receive any governmental funding and relies upon limited support from the local authority in Hadramout, in addition to the charitable aid it gets, according to Basamad. He said that the local authorities have refused to give the 76 female teachers secure job contracts similar to what their other 62 colleagues have got. 

According to him, the stance adopted by the local authorities is due to the mistaken belief that HFFA has excessive number of staff although “no one can compare a big city like Mukalla with any other area in Hadramout”.

South24 Center’s reporter Abdullah Al-Shadli with HFFA’s Director General Abdullah Basamad, October 15, 2023

To add to their distress, all the other centers for people with special needs in the coast and valley of Hadramout enjoy contracts under the educational umbrella except for HFFA, despite it being the mother organization, Basamad pointed out. 

He warned: “The cessation of HFFA’s activities will be a humanitarian and social disaster. The local authorities should bear responsibility for these children and they must intervene to solve this problem. Our foundation has done what the authorities and the state failed to do. As the head of HFFA, we will inform authorities that we will work according to our available potential. Thus, more than 130 children face the risk of being turned away.”

The suffering of children and families
Autism is one of the major challenges faced by societies in the modern era, as about one in 100 children around the world suffers from this neurological and developmental disorder.

Basamad explained that autism cases have increased over the past 10 years. Scientists are still studying the reasons behind autism. While some believe it may occur due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, some theories say that “fetal dystocia” (complications in childbirth due to abnormal fetal size) could be among the causes. Others argue that “endogamy” and probably even vaccines could likely be linked to the condition.

Naturally, the capabilities and needs of autistic children differ as some of them are able to live independently while others need life-long care. However, the psychological and social interventions received by children in the specialized centers can make a big difference, according to parents who spoke to ‘South24 Center’.
Autistic children play in HFFA, September 14, 2023 (for South24 Center by the foundation’s media department) 

Autism, also referred to as autism spectrum disorder, constitutes a diverse group of conditions related to development of the brain. This includes autism, childhood disintegrative disorder and ‘Asperger’s syndrome’. The symptoms of autism can be detected at an early stage of childhood but diagnosis and evaluation require a long time.

The special requirements of autistic children deepen their suffering and increase the need for specialized organizations such as ‘HFFA’.

The monthly fee of an autistic child in HFFA is about 50,000 riyals, which is beyond the capacity of many families, especially those who have more than one child suffering from autism.

Nada Zeid, mother of an autistic girl child, came from Abyan to Hadramout six months ago. She told ’South24 Center‘ about the suffering of her seven-year-old daughter afflicted with the disorder. She said that due to autism her child is unable to get enrolled in normal schools, especially the public ones. Her family’s poor financial condition has added to their woes.

Basamad said that the typical age to accept autistic children in specialized organizations is at three, which is the best age for making an early intervention, till the age of 10. Some 77 children who were trained at HFFA were able to get admission in regular schools and the majority of them have excelled in education.

On September 9, HFFA celebrated the graduation of 26 autistic students, including 18 who were enrolled in private schools while eight others were assigned to crafts professions after they passed the childhood age. 

The graduation ceremony of some of HFFA’s students (for South24 Center by HFFA’s media department) 

Basamad expressed distress over some schools refusing to accept autistic children or to cooperate with HFFA, even on humanitarian grounds, although those children had been diagnosed only with hyperactivity

Autistic children play in HFFA, September 14, 2023 (for South24 Center by HFFA’s media department) 

Asmahan Al-Mahri and Ahmed Al-Soqotri, parents of autistic children who came from Al-Mahra and Socotra respectively, told ‘South24 Center’ that they are concerned about the future of HFFA.

Ahmed Al-Soqotri said: “I hope that these autistic children won’t be abandoned. I came from Socotra to HFFA in particular. My son has improved a lot since he was enrolled. We have faced many burdens since we came to Mukalla.”

Asmahan Al-Mahri said: “The female teachers play a more important role than mothers in shaping the children. Where will these children go if HFFA closes its doors?”

It is worth mentioning that HFFA launched an education strike some weeks ago and it won’t end till officials respond to the demands of the staff. This means that the 200 autistic children studying at HFFA are at risk of being shut out. 

Abdullah Al-Shadli 

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic

AutismAutism Spectrum DisorderHEFADisorderHadramoutMukalla