By: Elaine Gilmartin, MA, BCBA

It all started with my grandma, she told me as a kid that If I didn’t learn Spanish, she wouldn’t leave my anything when she died. I have been speaking Spanish ever since. At 17, I had an opportunity to work with children on the spectrum. I left my job making pizza and the rest was history.

Traveling with the Global Autism Project to the Dominican Republic as a board certified behavior analyst has been a unique experience. Although speaking Spanish has helped us bridge gaps when it comes to ordering food, finding directions, and getting answers to simple questions like, “where is the restroom”,there have also been some challenges. In the DR, there are  words and phrases that I am not familiar with, terms that are used in Spanish vary in Spanish countries. Not all Spanish terms align, but many of the basic terms do. 

At first, I wanted the team to rely on me to help with all their translation needs, I felt it was my duty to make things smooth on our trip. I was doing “for” and not “with”. It’s been two weeks, and now I feel I am doing “with” and not “for.” In my short time with my group, many of my teammates have picked up some basic terms and are asking me questions for clarification on their own Spanish. My teammates are asking the locals for help on their own, even ordering their own food and communicating with uber drivers in Spanish! 

It has been a wonderful experience being able to assist in translating interviews and behavioral terms with my teammates. Being able to speak both English and Spanish has allowed the therapist at ACAP to communicate in their native language and has allowed the GAP team have someone to help promote their Spanish. To see my teammates practice their Spanish and get their needs met in the natural environment has been a pleasure. 

  In both my career and in my personal life, speaking Spanish has opened many doors, has resolved many problems and has brought me many blessings.