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Obama praises hearing-impaired boy from UAE for academic excellence

ABU DHABI // A little boy who has overcome deafness to become an academic star at school has received a personal letter of praise from Barack Obama.

“I am proud of you for pushing yourself academically,” the US president told Yusuf Batha, “and I am counting on you to continue to set a good example to help others whenever you have the opportunity.”

Mr Obama also told Yusuf, 10, to keep seeking new challenges and “set your sights on new horizons”.

Yusuf, who was born in Abu Dhabi to an Emirati mother and Indian father, is one of the highest achievers in his school, the Central Institute for the Deaf in St Louis, Missouri.

His father Yacoob has had to fight to obtain the best education for Yusuf and his brothers and sister, who also have impaired hearing.

Mr Batha first began to suspect something was wrong when Yusuf was six months old and did not respond to sounds.

“In Abu Dhabi, there wasn’t newborn hearing screening at the time, so we didn’t know if he was deaf or not,” he said.

One day, listening to the radio, he heard a doctor talking about how to check if a child had hearing problems.

“I went home and I tried all of it – banging on the door and making too much sound, high volumes and everything, and I saw that he was not responding,” he said.

Tests confirmed their fears, and the Batha family began their long journey to find proper care for their son.

When Yusuf turned 2, the family travelled to St Louis, Missouri, where they enrolled him in the Central Institute for the Deaf.

In 2007, their third child, Luqman, was born, and he suffered from the same condition as Yusuf. They enrolled him at the institute too.

Two years later Mr Batha suffered a head injury and a broken armin a fall, and the family returned to the UAE where daughter Haifa was born – also hearing impaired.

Meanwhile the advances in listening and speaking that Yusuf and Luqman had made at the institute in St Louis began to regress.

Mr Batha believes the children’s school in the UAE did not know how to cope with disabled children, and their fees were causing him financial difficulties.

In 2011, Mr Batha returned alone to St Louis with Yusuf and Luqman, and enrolled them again at the institute. The boys quickly began to improve in their communication skills.

Haifa, now 5, joined them at the school in 2012.

Mr Batha was essentially a single parent until 2014, when his wife Mariam and their youngest child, Abdul Tawwab, 2, joined the rest of the family. He also has severe hearing impairment.

Mr Batha is thankful that the institute gave the four children a full scholarship.

As well as Yusuf’s recognition from Mr Obama, last month he was presented with an award for high academic achievement from the institute for excelling in social studies, science, spelling, language, maths and reading comprehension.

Yusuf, who enjoys PE and maths classes, said he was proud and happy to have been honoured in this way.

He also said that speaking and understanding language is improving with the help of the institute: “It’s now kind of easy but sometimes if someone talks to me quietly I don’t understand.”

The institute teaches children up to the age of 12 with hearing difficulties to communicate without the use of sign language.

Its programme is designed to prepare children to enter mainstream schools.

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(via The National)