Lebanon’s only autism school to close due to economic crisis

Lebanon’s only autism school to close due to economic crisis
3 min read
30 August, 2021
Lebanon's only full-service school for autistic children will close, leaving families searching for alternatives.
Parents told The New Arab that they had "no plan-B" for their children should the school shut.

Lebanon's only full-service school for autistic children will close in the coming weeks due to the country's protracted economic crisis.

The 1 2 3 Autism School opened in Beirut two years ago and provides personalised educational services for autistic children, as well as training for families to help them be more effective caregivers.

Despite weathering the economic repercussions of Lebanon's 2019 October revolution and the Covid-19 pandemic, the centre will shut its doors soon after facing insurmountable costs in obtaining fuel to keep classrooms and offices lit.

Lebanon is facing a huge fuel shortage due to a lack of foreign exchange to import fuel stocks, in addition to hoarding and sales of subsidised fuels on the black market.

Just last week, fuel prices jumped by 66 percent in a move meant to stave off the complete lifting of state subsidies for petrol and diesel.

The school would need 20 million Lebanese lira per month (about $1,000) to cover fuel costs alone, Saritta Trad, the school's founder, told The New Arab.

Lebanon's exchange rate crisis has led to the lira losing over 90 percent of its value and further exacerbated the school's financial situation.

The school receives tuition at the country's official rate of 1,500 liras per dollar, but needs to pay its parent organisation in dollars at the black market rate, currently at 19,000 per dollar.

Trad tried to keep the school open for as long as possible, but felt that "doors were shutting" in her face at every turn.

"When we told the families and staff we were going to close, they were devastated," she said.

Some of the students' families moved cities and even countries in order to attend the school. One parent, Noha Badwi, drove from Tripoli every day - a four-hour roundtrip - to take her 12-year old daughter to the centre.

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Families described to The New Arab how crucial the school was for the improvement of their children’s social and cognitive abilities.

However, key to autistic children's continued development is routine and consistency and without these two elements, students can rapidly start to regress.

One mother, Basmah Al-Sheikh, said that after two weeks out of school, her son has stopped making eye contact with her - something he had improved in since attending school.

Other parents said that their children had started to display anger issues which they linked to the interruption to their routine and lack of stimulation.

Further, electricity blackouts and the fuel crisis in Lebanon have created another layer of difficulty for parents of children with special needs. They face an even bigger challenge in trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for their children, who are hyper-sensitive to even minor changes in their environment.

The resulting pressure on parents is immense. Their children need 24-7 care, and without a school to go to, the burden falls entirely on their shoulders.

"With the situation in Lebanon, with no electricity, no fuel… both the children and us as parents are tired," Badwi said. "There is no plan B, I am thinking of leaving Lebanon if I can, that’s my only option," she added.

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