Autism Smiles in Dubai

Dubomedy’s Mina Liccione, explains the comedy group's fundraising venture

Dubomedy founders Ali Al Sayed and Mina Liccione
Dubomedy founders Ali Al Sayed and Mina Liccione
Autism Smiles aims to help kids through comedy
Autism Smiles aims to help kids through comedy
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Dubomedy’s new initiative, Autism Smiles, aims to help children with special needs express themselves through comedy. Benita Adesuyan speaks to Mina Liccione, its co-founder, to find out more.

They say that laughter is the best remedy and the Dubai-based comedy pioneer Dubomedy has been dishing up a healthy dose of it to the city for more than five years. Founded by Mina Liccione and Ali Al Sayed, its comedy workshops, stand-up performances and improvisation sketches have tickled the city’s funny bones. In 2009 Dubomedy launched the Clowns Who Care volunteer initiative to spread the laughter to children and adults with special needs, charity organisations and hospitals. Dubomedy is now working on a new initiative, Autism Smiles, a free youth comedy club for autistic children. We spoke to Dubomedy co-founder Mina Liccione about how the project seeks to help.

Why has Dubomedy set up this new initiative?
There are very few performing arts classes designed especially for children with autism in the UAE, let alone a youth comedy club. After being asked by a number of parents to consider starting a programme, we decided to offer kids a much-needed platform.

You were involved in making the film As One: The Autism Project. How did you get involved with it and what did you learn from the process?
Ali and I were invited by Hana Makki from Image Nation to act as the comedy coaches and performing arts instructors for the documentary film last year. The project brought together ten children of different ages and nationalities with autism. We met weekly for four months to teach them different creative skills for them to put on a final show for their friends and family. Once the project was over, a number of families who saw the movie contacted us asking if we could work with their children because they could see how much the cast had grown from the experience. Up until then, I hadn’t worked with children with autism that closely. I had done a lot of performances and workshops for children with autism, diverse special needs, orphans and refugees, but this experience allowed me to build a strong bond with the kids and taught me a tremendous amount about what autism is and isn’t.

What will the comedy club involve for the kids and what do you hope they will get out of it?
The class will meet once a week on Saturday mornings. The kids will learn an array of skills including comedic storytelling, circus skills and song and dance. Often, children with autism know what they want but have a hard time communicating it. Comedy and performing arts offer new ways for them to express and release feelings.

How many Dubomedy staff will be involved in the project?
Four Dubomedy team members and a few volunteers that I will train beforehand. In addition, we will have some guest artists come in to lead specific exercises including a laughter yoga specialist and a comic writer
who will give a reading from her humorous book. We are limiting the number of students to ten to ensure that each child receives a large amount of one-on-one attention.

How does comedy and laughter help kids with autism specifically?
Laughter allows them to de-stress, release frustration and feel more confident. Being able to make others laugh is very empowering.

Are you looking for volunteers to help out with the project?
Yes, we are looking for volunteers who will be required to attend training led by myself. I am particularly interested in those who have had experience working with children with special needs or university students studying psychology, special needs education or arts. Anyone interested in volunteering can just give the office a call and we’ll take it from there.

You already have another term planned for April. Are there plans for Autism Smiles to become a year-round programme?
Dubomedy Arts School has three eight-week comedy terms a year, as well as summer intensives. We are launching the course this term then Ali and I will review the programme and make any adjustments needed before starting up the new term. If all goes well we hope to include Autism Smiles youth comedy club all year round.
Free. 10.45am-noon, Autism Smiles begins Saturday February 21. Until March 21. One Lake Plaza, Cluster T, JLT, www.dubomedy.com (050 927 3621).

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