Children at Risk and Interventions in Saudi Arabia

Abstract

This paper addresses the issue of children at risk, and possible interventions and changes to their curriculums that might be used to improve the outcomes. The study is based on scholarly literature, and, after addressing the importance of the issue, provides a review of a number of studies and explains how they can be used to solve some problems of children at risk in Saudi Arabia. This research is limited by the dearth of literature concerned specifically with Saudi Arabia. In order to more concretely understand what interventions and changes to a child’s curriculum to implement, it would be useful to carry out more detailed studies of specific issues on-site.

Introduction

It can hardly be doubted that children constitute the future of every people. Children are young persons who need to be brought up properly in order to become full-fledged individuals that could be both successful from the personal point of view and helpful for the society they live in. But it should be noted that there are different factors which influence the process of a child’s upbringing. These factors might come both from the child (for instance, health issues caused by genetic reasons) or from the environment (poor ecological condition). When these factors begin to have a strong adverse influence on a child’s development, it is said that the child is at risk.

In this paper, we will address the issues of curriculum and interventions applied to children at risk; in particular, the focus of our study will be the population of Saudi Arabia. After discussing the meaning of the “at risk” term in more detail, we will consider the importance of this problem and the significance of its research specifically in Saudi Arabia. After that, we will provide a review of scholarly literature (four scholarly articles and two doctoral dissertations) studying the issues of the children at risk, and offer a number of conclusions which may be drawn from this literature to improve the life, educational, social, and other outcomes for children who belong to different groups at risk.

Statement of Need

As it was mentioned, some children belong to the so-called “at-risk” groups. It is hard to define this term precisely; the explanations of it are often rather vague, but that is due to the fact that it describes people who are more likely to have “poor life outcomes in general” (Moore, 2006), which is, clearly, a large group of people. Therefore, the term “children at risk” is a general one, and includes kids who, for example, live in adverse ecological conditions, suffer from additional disadvantages in their academic or social lives, may fail while looking for employment, etc. It is also clear that children with various health issues, especially the ones who suffer from severe impairments, virtually always face numerous additional complications in their lives that usually cannot be overcome using the methods and resources that ordinary, non-impaired children (and their parents and teachers) commonly have at their disposal. Hence, the need for e.g. special education and additional interventions follows.

It is practically always true that the interventions that need to be carried out in order to help the children at risk are most useful when they are made as early as possible. For instance, for children with auditory impairments, it is crucial to identify the problem at an early age, because staying ignorant of it would mean that the child is deprived of a vast amount of experience that other kids of this age obtain, and, as no compensation for this lack is provided, they are likely to develop much worse than non-impaired children. Identifying the problem, however, allows for offering interventions that make the consequences of the impairment less significant, as well as for implementing special studying curriculums that take into account the needs of these children.

However, it should not be forgotten that all children at risk, even the non-impaired ones, require additional help and attention. For example, kids who suffer from child abuse need the help of the society, because the situation that they constantly find themselves in causes suffering, and is also likely to harm their social and personal development and adversely affect not only their future lives but also the lives of those who surround them.

It is also important to research the issues concerning the children at risk on-site. Clearly, there might exist various distinctions between different regions, and children in Saudi Arabia are likely to suffer from different concrete problems than those in the United States, for instance. These distinctions might be caused by cultural, technological, and other differences. Of course, any research of the problem might be useful to a certain degree. Some of the studies will be helpful anywhere – for instance, the ones that include early interventions related to medical conditions (e.g., hearing and vision impairments). Others might be connected only to concrete social issues and be of use in particular settings only (for instance, there might exist different views on child abuse in different cultures, so in the cultures where child mistreatment is perceived as more acceptable it is especially important to carry out interventions and provide additional help to the abused kids).

Taking what has been said above into account, it is clear that studying the phenomena related to the children at risk specifically in Saudi Arabia is essential if improvements in this sphere are to be carried out successfully in the named country.

This section provides a review of literature on dealing with children at risk. It should be pointed out that, while one might find plenty of studies concerned with these issues that were carried out in some countries (for instance, in the USA), it is rather hard to find literature which researched this problem specifically in Saudi Arabia. Also, many of these studies examined very specific population, and the results might be different in other regions of the country. Due to the lack of research literature, we chose a number of studies dealing with particular issues related to some specific groups of children at risk, and one general article concerned with the history of special education in Saudi Arabia and possible legal recommendations to improve it. The other articles were concerned with children suffering from different impairments (auditory or visual); with inclusive schools for such children; and with the parents of children at risk, and how to work with these parents or introduce other interventions.

The article by Aldabas (2015) provides a brief description of the history of special education in Saudi Arabia, and offers some recommendations that should improve it today. Special education appeared in Saudi Arabia in 1958, and has been developing ever since. It has been able to significantly improve the life of children with disabilities (who are, as it is known, are among the children at risk) by providing them with opportunities to learn. The first special education program in Saudi Arabia was private, when a blind man, supported by a private organization, created a program to help blind adults to learn. The first governmental program was opened two years later, in 1960, and provided training for blind males of various age, including boys.

The sphere was gradually developing, and nowadays there exist not only special education institutions but also general education schools that provide inclusive education for kids with mild or moderate learning disabilities. The author offers some recommendations concerning the upbringing of children with impairments. For instance, it is important to educate them in less restrictive environments, and to take into account their individual needs while creating a curriculum for them in inclusive schools. This requires the adoption of laws that would allow for such curriculums. These laws also need to include the requirement to involve parents in children’s education, as well as to establish the provision of services such as early identification of impairments and early intervention. The creation of programs that would prepare teachers for impaired students is also essential.

Some children at risk (for example, children with various impairments) may experience additional difficulties while interacting with their peers and engaging in social relationships. This issue is important due to the fact that nowadays children from Saudi Arabia and other countries often study in inclusive schools. Xie (2013) carried out a research of literature concerned with the issue of how children with hearing impairments communicate with their peers. The researcher was able to find out that the impaired children engaged in interactions, but this communication was usually more successful if both participants had an auditory deficit, whereas the communication with children who had typical hearing failed more often. Xie (2013) proposes to introduce some programs that might make the communication easier into the children’s curriculum.

Such programs include ones that improve language and speech ability, peer-mediated model programs, co-enrollment programs, and social skills training programs. The scholar notes that it is required to carry out additional studies in order to identify the exact results of these programs. It is clear, however, that these programs might provide significant help to the impaired children, to the ones in Saudi Arabia in particular, and that it might be useful to implement such programs in inclusive schools of this country.

A dissertation by Al-Hoshan (2009) is a study of the results that special education yields for children with hearing and visual impairments in Saudi Arabia. The scholar researched the post-school outcomes of 279 learners from Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) who had hearing or visual loss and finished schools in 2002-2006. It was found out that children who studied in inclusive schools more often took part in various group activities after they finished their schools. They also communicated with friends more often and had higher chances of having an employment history.

The study also discovered that having a transition plan (which means that the students discussed the variants of their further educational or career path with a teacher or an adult person at school) before leaving schools led to the similar results (higher participation in group activities, more frequent communication with friends, better chances of having an employment history). Having a transition plan was also associated with higher odds of being engaged in post-secondary education programs. Therefore, it was shown that there exists an association between inclusive education and the presence of transition plans on the one hand, and positive outcomes after leaving schools on the other. It is clear, therefore, that it would be useful to create more institutions in Saudi Arabia that would provide inclusive education for children with impairments. It is also important to introduce transition planning as an integral part of education for such children.

As it was mentioned, there exist inclusive schools for children with various disabilities and other children at risk in Saudi Arabia. Alrubaian (2014) in his dissertation investigated the knowledge, attitudes, and strategies of general education teachers from such schools towards children with learning disabilities in Saudi Arabia. 278 teachers took part in the study; the research was carried out on male teachers from elementary schools (grades 1-6). Among other findings, the researcher was able to discover that five main factors contributed to the quality of education for children with learning disabilities; these factors were “teacher preparation, academic climate, teaching approaches, teaching strategies, and teacher effectiveness” (Alrubaian, 2014, p. 105). General experience of teaching and the experience of participation in special education programs were associated with better teaching methods.

Also, the presence of a resource room was related to better educational outcomes for children. The size of groups also was found to be a factor for the quality of education provided. It also should be noted that teachers indicated that various kinds of assistance, such as the presence of a special education teacher in their school, the public understanding of the issue of learning disabilities, the collaboration of children’s parents with teachers, better salaries, additional information on working with children with learning disabilities, etc., helped them to provide better education to these children. Therefore, it is clear that in order to improve the quality of inclusive education for Saudi Arabian children with learning disabilities it is important to provide the teachers from such schools with different kinds of supporting materials and resources.

Parents play an important role in children’s life, and their attitudes and beliefs often have a significant influence on a child’s development. Alqahtani (2012) investigated the beliefs of 85 parents about the causes of autism in their children. The parents were chosen from King Fahad medical city. There were a number of specific criteria; parents had to be Saudis; their children had to achieve the diagnosis of autism when they were one-year-old or more, and have no other significant disorders; the diagnosis had to be made by King Fahad medical city autism team. The scholar was able to find out that a large number of parents believed that the condition of their children was a result of factors which exist according to their cultural beliefs. Mostly parents were convinced that more than one cause was involved.

For instance, some parents thought that autism emerged from their being “cold” and not giving enough “emotional warmth” to their children. Many parents were sure that their child’s diagnosis was a result of “evil eye”; a little fewer parents reported dark magic as the cause of the disorder. Others were convinced that autism developed due to measles-mumps-rubella vaccination. Interestingly, none of the parents knew that genetic factors might contribute to their children’s diagnosis. Even though parents often practiced dietary and medical interventions, none of the important types of therapy that involve behavioral, developmental or educational interventions were used. These findings indicate that it is essential to introduce educational programs for parents of autistic infants when planning early interventions in Saudi Arabia, because the lack of knowledge about medical causes and treatment of autism is likely to significantly worsen the quality of care for these children.

It is important to point out that children suffering from abuse in their families also constitute a major at-risk group. In such cases, interventions of external institutions may be needed to protect these children. Habib (2012) researched the level of professional knowledge and experience of Saudi Arabian pediatricians concerned with the issue of child abuse. 198 visitors of a pediatric conference were questioned to obtain the results. The participants came from various pediatric institutions located in different parts of the country. As a result of the study, it was found out that most participants (82-91%) had knowledge about some important issues regarding child abuse and negligence, which is stated to be an adequate percentage.

On the other hand, much fewer participants (only approximately 66% to 79%) knew how to report these cases. Knowledge about the concepts of child abuse or negligence, about underreporting, as well as perception and professional experience of child abuse or neglect varied significantly among participants; they scored from 43% to 82% on these tests. The researcher concludes that the knowledge regarding child maltreatment among pediatricians is enough to create a strategy which would allow to introduce interventions to prevent child negligence and abuse. Therefore, pediatricians might play a key role in such strategies in Saudi Arabia.

Conclusion

To sum up, it should be pointed out that children at risk require additional help and protection from the society to successfully develop into an individual who would be a full-fledged member of their community. To provide such help and protection, it is important to identify the children at risk and develop special types of interventions to address their problems, as well as to create curriculums which would take into account their specific needs. As the cultures of different peoples differ, it is clear that there might be issues that put some children at risk and are related to the culture of this or that nation. Therefore, it is important to research the problems of children at risk specifically in Saudi Arabia in order to help them in this particular country.

This study has found out the following. To improve the quality of special care and education, it might be useful to introduce some new laws that would establish institutions for early identification of impairments and early intervention (Aldabas, 2015). To help the impaired children communicate with their peers, a number of types of special training might be added to their curriculum (Xie, 2013). Inclusive education and transition planning help improve children outcomes when they leave school (Al-Hoshan, 2009). Children with learning disabilities are likely to benefit from their teachers gaining access to various supporting materials and resources (Alrubaian, 2014). Many parents of children with autism spectrum disorder in Saudi Arabia believe that their children’s condition comes from supernatural forces and do not implement behavioral, developmental or educational interventions for their children, which means that the situation needs to be addressed to improve outcomes (Alqahtani, 2012). And, finally, pediatricians in Saudi Arabia are mostly competent enough to help deal with child abuse, which means that strategies to fight this problem might, among others, rely on this group of professionals to address the issue (Habib, 2012).

References

Aldabas, R. A. (2015). Special education in Saudi Arabia: History and areas for reform. Creative Education, 6(11), 1158-1167. Web.

Al-Hoshan, H. (2009). Postsecondary outcomes of students with visual and auditory impairments in Saudi Arabia: Implications for special education policy. Web.

Alqahtani, M. M. J. (2012). Understanding autism in Saudi Arabia: A qualitative analysis of the community and cultural context. Journal of Pediatric Neurology, 10(1), 15-22. Web.

Alrubaian, A. A. (2014). General education teachers’ attitudes, knowledge, and strategies related to teaching students with learning disabilities in Saudi Arabia (Doctoral dissertation). Web.

Habib, H. S. (2012). Pediatrician knowledge, perception, and experience on child abuse and neglect in Saudi Arabia. Annals of Saudi Medicine, 32(3), 236-242. Web.

Moore, K. A. (2006). Defining the Term “At Risk”. Web.

Xie, Y. (2013). Peer interaction of children with hearing impairment. International Journal of Psychological Studies, 5(4), 17-25. Web.