By: Shyann Guillen
My experience here in the Dominican Republic has been a memorable one. I have learned so much throughout this experience, I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn so much in such little time as well as help other staff members here in the Dominican Republic. The staff here were some of the most amazing people I have met, their energy level throughout the whole workday is something I haven’t seen before. They were always happy, always eager to learn, and ready to start sessions throughout the day. I had the opportunity to interview the founder of ACAP in Santo Domingo.
Kaki is a native of Santo Domingo, she left to the U.S to further her education and received her Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis in Boston MA. She returned home in the Dominican Republic (DR) and now is one of four BCBA’s in this country. She also is the coordinator of the UNIBE program, she helps with administration department and student contact information. Kaki one amazing women who is giving back to her country. In the beginning of this process she never expected to own her business. She was inspired by enjoying the environment of the ABA field back in New York. A friend of hers had experience in a preschool during the same time she was in ABA, so they decided to start collaborating and open a center back home in the Dominican Republic to provide ABA services. Kaki stated “a lot of people helped me along the way; This school opened 30 years ago by my grandma because a family member needed special education classes. The school is now running by my aunt, who was the one that let me take over this part of the school to provide ABA services. My parents also helped me a lot with investments”. Kaki had so much support getting ACAP started up and running. A friend from college who is an architect helped her design the layout of the center.
Global Autism Project (GAP) has been involved with ACAP since the beginning. They helped set up the center, set up the systems, choose color schemes, also provided training to staff and clinical support once every week. Kaki stated, “I didn’t have a lot of background on how to even run a center but GAP providing so much clinical support and support overall that it has been so helpful”. There were two big challenges she came across while starting ACAP. One was training professionals, due to the different culture aspects. ABA looks very differently in the United States than the Dominican Republic. Kaki stated, “teaching ABA “properly”, was difficult because the way I learned was in an ABA environment, which a lot of staff didn’t have in the DR”. Second challenge was the cultural around therapy here in the DR. An example would be if she recommended 30-40 hours for one client it considered too much to ask for and who’s going to pay for it since most insurances won’t cover that many hours. In this country most places that provided ABA services provide 1-2 hours of services to one client once a week. Kaki also stated “It can be difficult to get parent involvement, majority of the time it’s a nanny, granny, or other legal guardian due to the culture aspect.
Some of ACAP’s short term goals are providing more trainings for staff member to become supervisors. Another short-term goal is to have an adaptive classroom up and running for students that don’t have a classroom to attend school; as well as developing a daily living area to work on skills that are more functional for clients. Long term goals for ACAP are to collaborate with speech and occupational therapy in the near future. Another long-term goal is to have a paraprofessional bank, which would help hire paras to help students in schools.