Every year in April people from around the world join together in support of Autism Awareness Month by wearing blue or joining the “Light It Up Blue” campaign across their communities. World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) on 2 April was adopted by the United Nations in 2007 to shine a bright light on autism as a growing global health priority.
Sharon Gorton is part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative. Below she wrote about her work as a Special Education Advisor with the Association for Autism (AfA) in Lao PDR.
Awareness of autism in Lao PDR is only just beginning. Often treatment starts with putting a frog on the tongue of a small child. It is believed this will encourage the child to talk. Later shamans may add some magic chants and spells.
In Lao society people with autism are usually regarded as slow developers. The children and often their families are stigmatised. Many people believe, wrongly, it is a lack of love which may have delayed the development of their child. Families need to travel to Thailand with the children to obtain a diagnosis of autism. The lack of teachers trained in special education and the attitude towards disability are barriers for children with autism to access education in Laos.
AfA is a progressive organisation which began when a group of parents came together to look at better schooling options for their children and so the Association was founded in 2009. With 40 children and 23 staff including 18 teachers it’s a busy place each day.
As a Special Education Advisor, I work with my counterpart to develop in-service training packages and work alongside the staff to enhance their teaching skills through modelling and coaching. There is no special education training available for teachers in Lao PDR. Building relationships, sharing food, knowledge and skills means we all learn together. It’s a great cross cultural experience as we learn to get our messages across, mirroring the everyday experiences of people with autism.
AfA is also developing a communication app to support children with autism to communicate their ideas. A major part of my role has been working with the leadership team to develop the word bank for the Lao Autism Talks app, which will be a great tool to improve the lives of children with autism.
Join AfA to celebrate World Autism Day 2016 by spreading awareness and understanding of autism, celebrating and honouring the unique talents and skills of people with autism and bringing attention to the needs of all people with autism!