By Melissa Diamond, Direct Support Professional
Last summer, I hosted a lecture event in Minnetonka as a fundraiser for my organization, A Global Voice for Autism. The event featured Hammer CEO John Estrem and parent autism advocate Idil Abdull. Idil has been a leader in drawing attention to the high rate of autism in the Minneapolis Somali community and presented at the United Nations for World Autism Awareness Day (WADD) in 2013. After my fundraiser, she passed my contact information to the coordinator of the UN WAAD event.
Because of that lecture event, my organization was able to fund a grassroots autism program overseas. From January 2nd to March 31st 2014, we trained mothers of children with autism in Jenin, Palestine on Applied Behavior Analysis. After receiving seven hours of weekly theoretical and hands-on training, our team helped the mothers set up a cooperative so they can meet semi-weekly to provide therapy for each other’s children. Additionally, our volunteers will regularly follow up with the mothers via Skype. We will continue to provide them with the needed resources to empower women in their community to serve their own children with autism.
Watch this short video on our Jenin project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvpyDcYsEW8
Prior to our program in Jenin, there were no educational programs for children with autism. On the first day of the program, the mothers came in ashamed and desperate for help. They believed that they were the cause of their child’s autism and had been told that showing their child a specific children’s TV channel was the cause of autism. Today, the mothers are empowered. They understand what it means for their child to have autism and are competent in basic ABA strategies. They integrate these practices into their daily routines and they utilize their cooperative meetings to share ideas or ask for advice.
Since my time in Jenin, I was contacted by the UN and invited to participate in their World Autism Awareness Day event back on April 2nd 2014. The panel featured autism advocates from a wide range of perspectives and experiences. The theme of my panel was, “Opening Doors to Inclusive Education.” It was a rewarding and highly valuable experience. I hope programs such as those discussed at the UN continue to expand, both in the United States and around the world.
A recording of the UN event is available here: https://webtv.un.org/watch/world-autism-awareness-day-2014-opening-doors-to-inclusive-education-panel-discussion/3426728550001/. My speech begins 1hr 51min into the recording.