By Jennifer Hilton, a member of the SkillCorps Indonesia July 2017 team
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” –Miriam Beard
I knew for a long time that I wanted to travel with the Global Autism Project after I encountered a post that a friend shared on social media. In researching the organization, I found a group of people who were already doing what I had dreamed I would one day do—working to help people around the world teach kids with autism, building global awareness and acceptance, and traveling to new places as dictated by where the help was needed. Despite the fact that the work these people were doing resonated with me, I kept finding a reason to put off my application—a final exam, the fundraising minimum, the fear of traveling across the globe with a group of people I did not know. Finally, however, I filled out the application and before I knew it I was on my way to Indonesia. I felt proud of the difference that I thought I would make, but I didn’t realize until I got here exactly how wrong I was.
There has been a difference made by this trip, but that difference is in me. When I arrived in Indonesia I did not realize that I would have far more to learn from the women who run Rumah Tiara than they would ever be able to learn from me during this two-week trip. I quickly learned that this trip was nothing that I thought it was, but, instead, something even better. Traveling with Skillcorps is a crash course in collaboration with people from a variety of different professions who are in the game of helping individuals with autism. More than that, Skillcorps is a lesson in creating training and interventions that are socially significant to the partners of the Global Autism Project. Without this social significance, any change made by a Skillcorps team would be fleeting, bringing the sustainability of the entire model into question. The focus on sustainability and, therefore, social significance is not lost on behavior analysts, as this is deeply rooted in the very nature of our work. Spending two weeks immersed in a model that promotes sustainability is a constant reminder of what good collaboration should look like among professionals.
In reflecting on my time with Skillcorps so far, I think about how my experience will affect me when I return home. As a BCBA, part of my job is to collaborate with others in order to reach solutions that will be beneficial to my clients. It can be easy to lose sight of the sustainability of interventions I propose when I am trying to do what I think is best for a child. Unfortunately, the intervention that may be best able to help with a particular behavior is not always the intervention that will be easily or readily implemented by the staff or that is appropriate for the setting. Global Autism Project’s sustainable teaching model emphasizes meeting partners in the middle to come to solutions that will be sustainable even after we are gone. As a BCBA, this is a philosophy that I can bring back with me into homes and classrooms in which it is just as important that my interventions be sustainable in order to bring about lasting change for my clients.
When returning to my regular job as a BCBA in a public school, I will reflect often on my time with Skillcorps and my new, hands-on experience with collaboration and social significance. I am thankful for the opportunity to have traveled with my team and I am glad for the practice of collaborating with professionals who do not always share my views. I will come home with a new set of experiences that will help me to be better at implementing sustainable interventions that are important for the growth of both students and staff with whom I work. My biggest realization is that this trip is not about me and what I bring to the table, but about what I have to learn from others’ insights and experiences. I set out on this trip to make a difference in the lives of others, but I will return home with a new perspective both on my work and how I collaborate with other professionals. Instead of my making a difference, this new perspective will be based on the difference that the people I have met have made in me.