By Elyse Davis, a member of the SkillCorps Kenya April 2016 team. She has also traveled on SkillCorps trips to India and the Dominican Republic.
Yesterday, Nairobi had a special occasion that hosted hundreds of people for an Autism Awareness Event. Hosted at the Bomas of Kenya, this event had booths hosted by various services relating to those with autism, speakers lined up throughout the day, a children’s play area, and tons of information. The programs lasted from 10am-4pm. Although, the morning started out with pouring rain that sent everyone into panic as the event was set up outside, it pulled together and ended up being an awesome day for autism awareness!!
Parents were able to walk around (after they checked their children into the supervised play area) and get more information about the services out there for their children. There were booths hosted by Kaizora (our partner site), a health foods store (who say they help with the diet aspect of autism), a doctors clinic, and some services/centers that are out there for those with special needs. We hosted a booth for the Global Autism Project where we were available to answer questions, explain more about Applied Behavior Analysis, and refer people to our partners at Kaizora. It was great to be able to talk to parents and families about the services available for their children and hear their experiences raising children with autism here in Kenya. There are so many great parent advocates!
There were 11 presentations by various professionals and resources available. Some of the topics include ‘what is autism?’, working with adults with autism, nutritional guidance, and what you can do to help your child at home. Our team gave a presentation on evidence-based research. It’s so important for parents to be their own skeptics when it comes to implementing interventions or treatments for their children. We were able to explain what interventions are evidence-based and why, questions to ask, how they can be aware if something is helping their child and where they can do their own research. ABA is currently the only evidence-based intervention so we described more about this treatment; however, it’s a tricky situation because Kaizora is the only ABA center in East Africa with a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst). So it was important not to only say that ABA is the only option, but to give parents the confidence to do their own research on therapies before signing their child up.
Parents were given the option for free child care during the event so they could enjoy the booths and presentations without distraction. With many volunteers to supervise the children and lots of fun activities, they were in great hands. Because it was an autism awareness event, children with autism and other special needs were treated with the upmost care. Each child was given a name tag with their information and their parent’s information. On the back of their name tag, there was a notice that the child is on the autism spectrum and may difficulties with communication and responding to their name. The child area consisted of a playground, transalpine, DJ, dance floor, art stations, blow up slides, and a bounce house. It was so great to see all the smiling faces!!!
This whole day was amazing! I’m not sure I’ve ever been with so many children with autism in one place. I can’t even imagine how the families felt as they were able to look around and see that they definitely were not alone. Being a part of this day was such an incredible experience for me and my team to be a part of in learning about autism in Kenya and the resources available worldwide.