By Amy Pulliam, a member of the SkillCorps Kenya January 2016 team
So, I’m going to start with a cliché. “My eyes have been opened.” I began this journey with the knowledge that autism awareness isn’t as widespread in many parts of the world as it is in the states. I knew that important services were not as accessible or prevalent as I’m used to seeing back home. I understood all of this, but I still didn’t fully get it. To hear something and understand the principles behind it is one thing, but to see it is completely different. There is one BCBA in Eastern Africa. That means there is one person who is qualified and certified to develop and provide crucial services to all of the children with autism in Eastern Africa. I am terrible at math, but not bad enough to not know that is a ridiculous ratio. She can train staff and promote others to receive their certification and training in ABA, but that is a long process and there are so many children RIGHT NOW that need these crucial services. ABA therapists in the states hear it all the time – “early intervention is key” and “consistent, frequent therapy is crucial.” There are numerous children who have autism and not enough therapists and centers to meet all of their needs. That means more children than not in this area of the world who are in great need are not receiving early intervention and consistent, frequent therapy. One can hear all of this information and fully comprehend it and still not really understand what that looks like. So this is where my eyes have been opened. Between our two very brief outings in the community yesterday and today in which we are all wearing our amazing Global Autism Project polos stating the organization’s name and the quote “autism knows no borders, fortunately neither do we,” four different people have approached us about what our shirts mean. Two asked us “what is autism?” and two approached us concerning issues of children they know who they think have autism and who are in great need of services. They asked us what we do and when we explained that we partner with a center for children with autism in Nairobi they immediately wanted the contact information, which we very happily gave. Not only were we able to educate some people who had no idea what autism is, but we were able to connect children in need with possible services. These four separate instances happened in a very small interval of time and all at the same location (the local mall). Now imagine that across Nairobi, across Kenya, across Africa, and across an extended period of time. The amount of people that want to know what autism is and want to help children they know who are in need but who have no way of finding those services is literally eye-opening. So, I am seeing it now- really seeing it. This is an actual problem that isn’t just something to be discussed and commiserated. I am so guilty of complaining about current paradigms and problem solving for ways to make important paradigm shifts but the conversation usually stops there. Action must be taken. That is why the Global Autism Project is so amazing. It’s not just a group of caring and passionate people sitting around a nice meal in a restaurant intellectually discussing world issues and how they could be solved. It is a group of people who are actually doing something. They are having these conversations and then getting up from the table and working their hardest to help solve them.