A Maple Ridge mother of two children diagnosed with autism has altered her own course in life, opening a educational support centre for children on the spectrum, hoping to raise awareness about the disorder.
What makes her programs different is that she is not teaching children to behave in a specific way, rather, to be themselves.
Zaineb Ghlayem started Clever Clogs Inclusive Academy, where the experienced family councillor who has a master’s degree in education and training in autism and neurodiversity, will meet children and youth in their own environment to deliver programming.
“I prefer to work with children in their home in their community because they need to be in a familiar place,” said , noting that it eliminates anxiety of being in a centre or place that is unfamiliar to them,” explained Ghlayem, who works with both children and youth, aged 6 to 16, across the Lower Mainland.
According to the World Health Organization, autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a diverse group of conditions related to the development of the brain, characterized by some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication and unusual patterns of activities and behaviours like difficulty with focus, transitioning between activities, and unusual reactions to sensations.
About one in 100 children has autism, estimates the organization, noting autism characteristics may be detected in early childhood, but often the disorder is not diagnosed until much later.
Ghlayem’s daughter was three-years-old when she was diagnosed with autism.
“It was a whole new world to me,” said Ghlayem, explaining how scared she felt about the diagnosis.
“It was such an overwhelming experience for me,” added the mom.
Ploughing forward, as Ghlayem began navigating the hoops with her daughter, gaining more exposure to the world of autism, she felt like she became an expert herself.
But it was only after the birth of her second child, who was also diagnosed with the condition when he was four, she decided to take all her new knowledge to a new level by starting her own learning organization.
Her main goal was to bring more awareness of autism to the public and to educate both children with autism and their parents that they don’t have to hide who they truly are.
Her business, she said, is not the typical tutoring, it’s not the typical therapy. It is uniquely created for neurodivergent children.
Questions Ghlayem commonly gets asked are how to stop their autistic child’s hands from flapping, or how to stop them from spinning, or repeating words, or making sounds.
Let them flap their hands, or spin, or make noises, or repeat themselves, to process the world around them, said the mother, whose children are now 9 and 7 years.
“Because for them to process, it takes them a bit longer time than us and that’s OK,” she said.
Ghlayem only started her business earlier this year, and registered her first client in March.
“This year I got the courage to do it,” she said, of taking the leap with Clever Clogs.
“I feel like I’m doing something that I feel is part of me and is part of my life,” she said.
Sessions range from about $40 to $55 each depending on what type of service is provided.
Tutoring, one-to-one life skills and things like that are around $40 and for family coaching when she creates a plan and goals and she works with the parents on goals at home, this is usually $55.
However, she said, she will work around a family’s budget and she also accepts autism funding.
Some people, she noted, can use their extended benefits to help them with the financial aspect of the programs, and some people have benefits for tutoring.
Ghlayem also provides coaching for parents.
“My first goal is to actually reach out to as much parents and people in society and create awareness about autism and that’s why I provide the parents coaching,” she said.
Parents, she said, do struggle with how to deal with things at home. So she touches on that aspect, on how to make a home more neurodivergent friendly.
Her main goal, though, is to help as many families as she can.