The journey of raising a child with special needs
March 28 2019 02:23 AM
Raana Smith, left, and Alison Saraf
MOTHERS: Raana Smith, left, and Alison Saraf believe it is important to accept children for who they are. Photos by Ram Chand

By Mudassir Raja

Raana Smith and Alison Saraf are two proud and brave mothers, and each of them has a son with special needs. They enjoy the experience of raising children and appreciate every little achievement of their sons in their day to day lives. Now, they have turned into trainers and entrepreneurs providing necessary awareness and equipment to meet the requirements of children with special needs.
Together they have co-founded Sensory Souk, the first company in Qatar to provide professional therapy tools, developmental toys and specialist educational products for children. The store is located in Royal Plaza. Being mothers of children with learning differences, they previously found it difficult to find quality education products in stock in Doha to support their children’s therapy and learning.
Raana, a US citizen, has a degree in Political Science and has been working professionally as a graphic designer. She has been in Qatar for about 12 years. Her husband is an IT expert. Her only child – nine-year-old Ayoub – has Sensory Processing Disorder.
A marketing manager by profession, Alison Saraf is from the UK. She has been in Qatar for 11 years. She has two daughters and a son. Her eight-year-old son Noah suffers from autism.
“Raana and I were taking our boys to different therapy centres in Qatar. We met in one such centre at West Bay. We have lots of common friends, and we began talking. She shared with me a book about children with special needs that she got from the US. That’s when we thought that we should do something here.
“When we received the autism diagnosis in 2012, there wasn’t much information available for parents and finding the right tools and therapies to support my son was almost impossible. Sensory Souk is here not only to supply the tools and equipment needed to help implement therapeutic strategies but also to support the SEN (Special Education Needs) community,” said Alison.
Sensory Souk will have its official opening on April 1, to coincide with start of autism awareness month. The store offers educational and therapy products for educators and therapy professionals in the fields such as speech therapy tools, physiotherapy tools, occupational therapy tools, all types of behavioural therapy tools, educational concept products, classroom furniture solutions, sensory rooms and hallways, and sensory playgrounds. They also offer a professional consulting service to advise and source specific products from the US and UK.
“Founded in Qatar in 2017 as an online store, Sensory Souk has been recognised by several government agencies and received an award in 2018 from The Ministry of Public Health for the work we are doing in the community. On January 1, 2019, Sensory Souk opened the doors to its first retail outlet in Qatar,” shared Raana.
The response of the people to the facility has been overwhelming and positive. “We have been much busier than we anticipated. We also have online presence – a fully working website. We have parents and experts here. We run a coffee morning every month inviting parents to come and share their stories. We also work as a support group. We also bring in experts who can answer the questions of the parents,” said Alison. The experienced mothers have many things to share with the parents of children with special needs.
Raana said: “The number one thing that you need to do is advocate for your child. You are the person behind it all. It takes management. For me, it has been an emotional journey because I did not understand what he [my son] was undergoing. When you have the information, you see a change and a shift in your whole family life.”
Alison added: “Be positive and accept your child for who they are. To be honest, to celebrate the achievements of these children is our fortune. We need to enjoy the process. Be in the front and enjoy the journey with your children.”

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