By: Natalie DePyper

Upon being selected for The Global Autism Project’s July 2019 Skillcorps trip to India, I tried to imagine what my work in Chandigarh wold look like. I reached out to some friends that have traveled with Skillcorps in the past, and a few people who have actually gone to SOREM, the school I would be working at in Chandigarh, just to find out “what is it I’ll be doing?” The responses I received were all along the lines of “it’s going to be great,you’ll love it!” being the anxiety ridden person that I am, my curiosity and nervousness was not settled. 

What is it exactly that they expected from an American, English speaking, Speech Language Pathologist, coming to work in an Indian, and predominantly Hindi speaking school. Am I supposed to help with articulation? Kaufman word shells? I don’t know Hindi phonemes! Augmentative/Alternative Communication? Answering WH questions? Vocabulary? I know one word in Hindi, bahni, and that’s IT!!!! Syntax? OH MY GOD I DIDN’T EVEN THINK ABOUT SYNTAX!!! Pragmatics? What the HECK are Indian pragmatic norms??? What do they want????? I don’t know any of this!!!! What am I doing here?!?! I don’t belong!!! 

I wasn’t sure of my place for at least two days? Maybe 1.5 if I’m being kind to myself? I tried the methods encouraged by the Global Autism Project, such as Socratic questioning, but found myself being met in multiple situations by massive language barriers, and definitely some pragmatic language differences as well. Translator upon translator was brought in to help assist with my questions and their answers. Then on day two, before lunch, a teacher says, “no more talk, no more questions, you show me.” 

“You do, we do, I do.” I can do that. The teacher quickly made the cards with drawings to represent the targets (she wanted me to help her teach a yes /no response), and we got to work. 

I demonstrated implementation, I trained quickly, I assisted her as she implemented, and then I monitored her implantation. We only spent ten, maybe fifteen minutes training together, and then I left her to do her thing. 

This was towards the end of the school day, so I didn’t have a chance to get back to the room until the next day. I was so nervous that I didn’t provide enough support, but when I returned the next day she was ecstatic about the student’s progress in just a short time. She couldn’t wait to tell me about how he independently came and brought her to his Functional Communication Choice Board to show her that he needed something! 

This confidence boost was exactly what her and I needed! She was feeling empowered, and it lit a spark in her ability to ask me quy, answer my questions, and problem solve for other students. 

I was feeling encouraged, as if I do in fact belong here, I do have something to offer, I can make a difference. It sparked an ability in me to just start the conversation, offer the demonstration, interrupt the routine, and honestly, all of the teachers I talked to after this genuinely appeared enthusiastic about our conversations, asking important questions, answering my questions, asking for hands on demonstrations, and were offering their own suggestions/problem solving as well. We dealt with everything from answering questions, vocabulary building, to AAC systems, and pragmatic skills. Once the ice was broken it was so much easier to work together. I’m so glad that I didn’t lose my nerve. I’m so glad that I’m here. I’m so glad that I feel like I belong. 

“To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a Pilgrim” 

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.