By Summer Meche, a member of the SkillCorps Czech Republic October 2017 team
During a trip to Spain this past April, I had the opportunity to venture out on my own and talk to a few locals while getting to know the city in which I was staying. We made small talk by discussing our interests, hobbies, and our different lines of work. I had a fairly difficult time explaining what I do and the field of ABA therapy, so I finally settled on telling people that I was a kindergarten teacher to make things less complicated. After many conversations, it clicked that there probably isn’t a lot of exposure to resources for children with special needs, especially those with autism.
Upon returning home from Spain, I quickly decided that I needed to expose more people to ABA therapy by moving abroad and working with kids at an autism clinic myself, because that’s clearly what the world needed. I frantically searched the web for BCBA jobs in Spain, France, and Sweden (which might have been a little too cold for me) and emailed every clinic that had a contact email address listed to inquire about a job opening. I received an email back from a clinic who wanted to schedule a call with me, but when we were finally able to talk, the director told me that there was no funding for ABA in the country, and therefore, she could not afford to hire me.
After feeling defeated, I stumbled upon a suggested video on Facebook for the Global Autism Project and I was immediately intrigued. During my initial phone interview, I revealed the reason I wanted to work abroad and the interviewer, to my surprise, said that it was the opposite of the organization’s model. She said that Americans aren’t the best people to work with kids with autism in India; teachers in India are. I didn’t quite get it at first and was a little taken aback, but my past few weeks as a SkillCorps member have taught me the value of Global Autism Project’s methods.
During our orientation, we learned about sustainability, which equates to the famous proverb, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime”. We were taught to use the Socratic method when helping our respective clinics to allow them to figure out answers themselves instead of simply answering the question with our opinion, which would inevitably create dependence.
The past two weeks, I’ve found myself struggling to ask questions or facilitate a conversation amongst the staff members instead of just giving the answer that I think would be best. Simply put, I’m just not the best person to tell an autism clinic in Czech Republic how to run, but the staff at ABA Centrum are. I don’t know the language, I don’t know how people in the community perceive people with autism, and I definitely don’t know what it’s like to live with their social norms. I’m just unqualified to be an ABA provider in this country.
What I can do is continue to advocate for services for kids with autism no matter where they live in the world. I can also raise money and continue to lend my skills on future trips with the organization. I won’t be changing my home address to Prague, but this trip has motivated me to help in the ways that I am qualified.