By Katie Levy, a member of the SkillCorps Kenya Aug. 2016 team
“What is autism?” is a question I am not used to hearing, at least in the literal sense. At home I answer questions about autism on a daily basis, but ‘What is it’ is one I have not been confronted with before.
As we go out in the community in Nairobi in our Global Autism Project gear, my Skillcorps team has been asked this question multiple times over the past week. Never having to explain it as a novel concept before, we all choose our words carefully and jump in to help each other. As we answer and explain what we are doing here, we are interrupted with statements like, “Oh yes, my brother’s son has that,” or “I didn’t know there were schools for that,” or, “Here those kids are kept away.”
At home, I sometimes get frustrated by the term ‘autism awareness,’ because I feel we should be past the awareness part by now. Most people in the United States are already aware that autism exists, and the focus should now turn toward acceptance and creating a more prevalent place for autistic people within our society. What I have learned since coming to Kenya is that what I had assumed to be universal awareness is unique to the United States and a handful of other countries. A lot of the world is still working on that part.
This, among so many reasons, is why Global Autism Project is so important. They not only bring awareness to parts of the world where it is rare, but they help schools, centers, parents, and communities move far beyond awareness toward understanding, helping and accepting. I have been so impressed by the staff at Kaizora, and have loved collaborating with them to help them reach the untapped potential in their students. With a little help from Skillcorps, they are helping them lead more fulfilling and independent lives on a daily basis. But I can’t help but think about how much more untapped potential there is in the world. When it comes to acceptance and awareness, we still have a long way to go, but Global Autism Project is getting there.