Two students launch priceless social support program for Abu Dhabi families

Starting a community program from scratch can be daunting. NYU Abu Dhabi students Hannah Taylor and Sally Oh — founders of the Family Friends community initiative for those touched by autism — know first-hand the roller coaster ride that pilot programs often are; scary yet exciting, nerve-wracking but fun, and definitely worth it in the end.

The inspiration for Family Friends — a series of weekend workshops — came from Taylor’s two years of conversations and experiences with the autism community in Abu Dhabi, including an internship with the Autism Support Network (ASN) — Abu Dhabi. The need for Family Friends was born because ASN and its founder, Nipa Bhupatani, highlighted the importance of holistic support for those touched by autism spectrum disorder.

Like all new community outreach initiatives, Family Friends took on a shape of its own. The end product was a hands-on experience centered around mindfulness, poetry and music. ASN families came to NYUAD campus on Saturdays over the course of four weeks to spend time with NYUAD students and faculty, workshop facilitators, and to learn from each other. Beyond new social support, the families took home concrete lessons for how to improve their daily lives using mindfulness.

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Thanks to the fantastic team at NYUAD and ASN for putting together the Family Friends program! I thoroughly enjoyed my time, as did my kids. Meeting other parents and having open insightful discussions has been a priceless experience.

Lameese Hajhusein, parent and participant

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“Hearing that parents have found key social support through the Family Friends program and have learned mindfulness lessons that they use in their daily lives makes all of our efforts more than worthwhile," said Taylor.

“So many people offered their time, care, and passion to Family Friends,” added Oh. “It would simply not have been possible without their selfless enthusiasm.”

Both Taylor and Oh hope the Family Friends program will grow in the years to come and help form a strong, closely knit, friendly, and comfortable community of allies in Abu Dhabi that offer support for autism.

Community Collaborators

  • NYUAD Office of Community Outreach
  • Anna Kaminski, mindful learning expert, workshop facilitator
  • Student volunteers Katie Sheng and Anastasia Karavan
  • Bahareh, poetry therapist
  • Jim Savio and Goffredo Puccetti, NYUAD faculty

2017 has been declared the Year of Giving in the UAE. NYUAD's Office of Community Outreach (OCO) and student volunteers give back to the community in many ways, by contributing time, skills and knowledge to the community. We call this drive for social good NYUAD Heart.