By Becca Hartman, a member of the SkillCorps Nigeria February 2018 team

Today we completed our third day of work at ACSI. There have been many things that surprised me about my first Skillcorps trip, and also many things that I expected. Nigerians here are so kind, helpful, and passionate! I expected this based on the descriptions of people who traveled here before. The children at ACSI are adorable. I also expected this. The children work extremely hard for the teachers that they clearly adore and trust- after meeting the dedicated team of teachers, this is not surprising, but still impressive. The behavioral techniques and principles that the staff at ACSI implements with expert precision are the same that we use back in the USA- this was surprising because I know that they do not have access to the widely available education in ABA that we do. Yet, they are implementing it more effectively than many therapists in the US!

One thing that surprised me during our end of the day ‘check-in” was the way we all understood the universal feelings of pride, accomplishment, and, sometimes, discouragement without needing to explain, like we often need to do for people outside of our field. You see, back home, many people that I am close with don’t understand why I do what I do. I might say “Timmy looked at me when he asked for a break today!!!” and they just smile and nod, not really understanding why it’s even noteworthy, never mind how it became the highlight of my day. However, these strangers, these people in a completely different culture living on a different continent, share the same feelings we do when their student uses a less intrusive prompt to count to 5, or says their name independently. They also feel the same exact moment of discouragement when their student has a rough day or a parent doesn’t understand their role in therapy. These moments of discouragement don’t linger and are quickly overshadowed by the next indicator of success in our students.

Another thing that surprised me was how closely their vision of the future matched mine. They saw a community where neurodiversity is normalized and individualized special education for all students with a need is commonplace. A community where children facing challenges communicating or socializing can receive a diagnosis and thrive with effective educational interventions. A community where people ask questions and seek out training to work with special needs individuals, and a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive!

Half a world away and we continue to fight for the same goal while facing many of the same challenges. It’s such a blessing to be part of the ACSI team for the next two weeks as they grow a sustainable community here in Nigeria.