Mersin 2016 Program Blog

War, Peace and Autism: What Does Supporting People with Disabilities have to do with Peace?

We’re bringing our blog back in preparation for the launch of our new program site in Turkey. To get started, we’re excited to bring you some questions from our supporters.

Today’s question is:

“Your organization supports children with autism and trauma-affected children in conflict-affected communities. Why do you specifically work in conflict-affected areas? What does this have to do with peace?”

-Anonymous, USA


Where do we even begin to answer this important question?

On a practical level, conflict often destroys core services within communities and prevents the development of new services and programs to support the population due to violence, limited resources and reduced governance and civil society capacities. This means that even communities that once had services for children with disabilities often lose these services or have their ability to operate significantly impaired. Conflict also limits access to training. In one community in Syria where we support families through our Virtual Support Program, the international professionals who previously supervised the center no longer have access to the community. Because many families lost their livelihoods in the war, the center could no longer afford its international support and was soon forced to shut down due to a lack of resources.

When we work in these communities, we put the capacity directly in the hands of the stakeholders in the lives of children with autism and behavioral challenges. When parents and teachers have the skills to support the children whose lives they are invested in, many of these barriers to accessing support and learning are removed.

But now on a deeper level…Why does it matter?


Peace is more than just the absence of violence in a community. A society is not truly at peace until it respects and values every individual within the community. Communities that do not value the rights of people with disabilities live with a mindset that some lives are worth more than others, and such a mentality is a slippery slope into direct violence against populations and communities.

On the contrary, supporting children with autism is an opportunity to bring communities together. By uniting parents, teachers and children from diverse ethnic, political and religious backgrounds around a common cause, our programs not only improve societies’ value of people with disabilities, but also change the way they value each other. With our without autism, we are more alike than different, and our families and teachers prove this to us and to their communities time and time again.

In a world riddled with violence, conflict and discrimination, our teams, teachers and families are choosing love, peace and hope every day.


Amjed hugs his teacher, Rana G. during a cooperative support session in Mersin, Turkey. Since the completion of our initial training in Mersin, Amjed, his mother, and his teachers Rula and Rana have been meeting weekly for cooperative practice sessions where they are helping Amjed with his language skills and and supporting each other as they work toward autism acceptance in their community.

Exam Week!

It’s exam week at our Mersin program site and our teachers and parents are hard at work showing off all they’ve learned over the past 12 weeks. From dispelling beliefs that parents are to blame for a child’s autism to discovering functions of behavior to teaching new academic and independent living skills, this group has covered the spectrum of evidence-based practices for autism interventions.

Curious to find out how you would do on our final exam? Check out a few sample questions below:

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Autism is:

    1. A disease caused by showing a child too much TV
    2. A sickness that can be cured, like a cold or the flu
    3. A lifelong neurological disorder associated with difficulty socializing and communicating
    4. An illness you can “catch” from others that causes restrictive and repetitive behaviors
    5. All of the above
    6. None of the above



Rama is a first grade teacher with a classroom of 45 children. Rama has a child in her class who she suspects has autism. Which of the following can Rama NOT do?

    1. Tell the child’s parents that their child has autism (provide a diagnosis)
    2. Use visual strategies to help the child participate in her classroom
    3. Let the child’s parents know that she has noticed autism symptoms in the child and suggest that the parents take the child to a trained doctor
    4. Stop instances of bullying if she sees them in her classroom
    5. All of the above
    6. None of the above



Amjed does not use words to communicate but has started pointing to a bottle of bubbles in order to get his mother to blow the bubbles. Amjed makes some sounds and his mother’s goal is to teach him to make verbal requests. What is the next step his mother should take when teaching him?

    1. Say the word “bubbles” whenever Amjed points to the bottle, but continue to blow the bubbles whenever Amjed points to the bottle
    2. Stop giving Amjed bubbles when he points and require that Amjed say the full word “bubbles” in order to get the bubbles
    3. Stop giving Amjed bubbles when he just points and start requiring that Amjed make a sound in order to get the bubbles
    4. Continue giving Amjed bubbles when he points to them and focus on getting Amjed to verbally request something else he likes
    5. None of the above



Which of the following is a TRUE statement?

    1. You can break any skill into smaller teachable steps and teach one step at a time until a child catches on
    2. Anything a child feels is a behavior
    3. Some children with autism are incapable of communicating
    4. Single step skills are skills that should be learned in a single day
    5. All of the above are true
    6. None of the above are true



Which of the following are TRUE about fading prompts?

    1. If you teach a child a skill using a prompt, you should always prompt him when you want him to perform that skill
    2. The amount of time you should prompt before fading a prompt is different for each child
    3. After a child gets a skill right a few times in a row, you should try a less intrusive prompt
    4. If a child makes a few mistakes using a less intrusive prompt, you should move back to using the more intrusive prompt
    5. B, C and D only
    6. None of the above



You are teaching Ali to eat melon and he is able to hold the fruit and smell it. What would be an appropriate next step to teach and provide reinforcement for?

  1. You don’t need to provide reinforcement for eating.
  2. Provide reinforcement for touching the melon
  3. Provide reinforcement for eating 4 large pieces of melon
  4. Provide reinforcement for touching the melon to his lips briefly


Did you know the answers?

Learn With Us: Meal Skills in Mersin

This morning we had a great Q&A session about teaching meal skills with our teachers and families in our Mersin program. Over the weekend, participants watched the meal skills presentation (the second to last presentation in our Mersin program) on our private YouTube channel. They gathered this morning to ask questions. Here are some of the things they wanted to know:

* * *

Muna, Mother of Haya, age 7: I want to ask a specific question about Haya. During mealtime, she likes to take her iPad and play with it. However, while she is doing this, she eats in the correct way. Is it okay to continue like that?

A Global Voice for Autism Team: I am sure that all of us look at our phone or do something else while we’re eating sometimes. Like you said, if Haya is still eating appropriately, then it’s not something to be too worried about. However, if you do have a situation in which you need her to eat without her iPad, she is likely to find this very difficult if it is part of her routine to have her iPad.

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(Haya, 7 and Reema, 9, join their families for a support group picnic in the park last week)

* * *

Soumia, Primary School Teacher: I heard that children with autism have low appetites. However, the child with autism that I know never stops eating unless we remove the food from him. Can we use imitation skills to teach meal skills. For example, can I hold his hand or have him model how I eat?

A Global Voice for Autism Team: Some children with autism have low appetites, but not all children with autism. It’s also not unusual for children with autism to eat a lot, like the child you know does. Food is naturally enjoyable (reinforcing) for most people, and it can be hard for children with autism to manage their food intake. They may not understand social rules around how much to eat and may not understand the implications of their decisions, such as the need to eat a balanced diet to remain healthy.

If a child is able to understand pictures, you could show him pictures of what he can eat (this could include quantities) and only allow him to eat that amount. You could also build some choice into it so that he can choose some of his food. You could use imitation to teach him to eat slowly, using a spoon or fork if he is eating the food that he has too quickly. When he eats at a slower speed, even if just briefly to start, then you can provide reinforcement.

* * *

Rula, Primary School Teacher: Is there a specific diet for children with autism? Are there certain foods that children with autism should or should not eat?

A Global Voice for Autism Team: Eating healthy foods is always a good idea for any child as it can improve concentration and keep them feeling good. However, there is no specific diet for kids with autism. Like all children, some kids with autism have sensitivities to things like gluten (found in bread and flour) or lactose (found in most dairy products). If you see that a child seems to be sick/uncomfortable after eating certain foods on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to check with a doctor to see if the child might have a sensitivity to those foods. You can also try removing a food from a child’s diet for a period of time (10 days) and see if the child appears to feel better. Then, try adding it back in and see whether the child seems uncomfortable/sick after eating it. You can do this for any child, not just children with autism.


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Do you have questions about feeding and meal skills? Comment on this post with what you want to know!



Strength, Resilience and Dedication Don’t Even Begin to Describe It…

Life is a series of unforeseen circumstances. The families and teachers in our Mersin program could tell you about a war that swept through their country and their lives, causing everything to devolve beyond their wildest dreams. And yet, they found a way to continue their lives, packing up their surviving family members and heading for a new life in a foreign country, doing everything they could so that, at least for a little while, their children could call Turkey “home.” But life is a series of unforeseen circumstances. On the night of July 15th, a coup attempt rocked Turkey at its core, resulting in roundups of military, government personnel and teachers, and ultimately forcing our team to make the heartbreaking decision to evacuate two weeks before the scheduled conclusion of our program.


(A gathering in the streets of Mersin on the night of the coup)

Nonetheless, our program participants were committed to continuing their learning, and we were committed to continuing to teach them. Our team gathered with all of our Mersin participants over Skype and did what our Mersin team does best…we found a solution.

Now, on Mondays at 11a.m. our parents and teachers log in to a private Youtube channel where they watch recorded versions of the presentations we had planned on giving between the evacuation and August 18th. At 2p.m. Turkey time, they gather with our team, now spread out around the world, via Whatsapp for a live Q&A session about the presentation.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, our cooperative group leaders show off their leadership skills, gathering their groups at the center where we work for group-led practice sessions. They take turns working with the children in their groups while other group members take videos of their work that they send to our team for feedback and suggestions…We are amazed by their initiative, and when we watch their videos, they are mastering everything! They don’t even need us!

(Teachers Rana S. and Soumia work with Haya on writing and receptive language skills)

These days in their support groups, the families are working on coming up with new activities that they can do together with all of their children. The parent group is creating an encouragement book that they will write in and pass from family to family every week while the siblings are writing a story about their autism sibling superpowers. They have lively Whatsapp discussions based on prompts we send out on Monday evenings. Yesterday’s prompt was: “Where do you find community? Which communities do you belong to? Are they accepting of your child with autism? What do you enjoy about each of these communities? What do you wish was different? All of the mothers listed A Global Voice for Autism as one of their communities!

And if that’s not enough, the families are organizing their own picnics, playdates and social events for the group. They really don’t need us anymore…and for us…that’s our dream come true! 

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(Haya and Reema at the support group-organized picnic)

Hate, violence and fear have all found themselves on the Mersin agenda over the course of this summer, and still, the families and teachers we serve are choosing love, peace and hope every time.



Happy Birthday to Somali Community BCBA, Laura!

Today, we are taking a break from our Mersin program coverage because…it’s our Somali Community BCBA Laura’s birthday!

Laura’s passion and commitment to the community she serves is evident in everything she does. She is constantly encouraging the families while challenging them to reach their potential. Thanks to Laura’s dedicated teaching, here are just a few changes our Somali families have seen so far:

-“I learned to ignore his attention seeking behavior and now I have seen those challenging behaviors decrease.”-Mother of Abdi*, age 5

-“I’ve learned to reinforce my child and to be persistent when I am trying to teach him something new.”-Mother of Mohammad*, age 7

-“I used to always carry my child around, but now I’ve learned to put him down and not to let him cling to me. I stopped giving him attention for jumping on the couch and now he doesn’t do it anymore.”-Mother of Ashkir*, age 5

And if that’s not enough evidence of Laura’s impact on the community, try this: She’ll be celebrating her birthday by leading a Jeopardy game for our families tonight.

Have a great day, Laura!


“Now I know that children with autism can learn!”

Today, we are excited to introduce you to Maram, a primary school teacher who is already including a child with autism in her classroom a few days a week. Maram has had near-perfect attendance throughout the program and her passion for supporting children with autism shines through in her care for her neighbor with autism as well as her dedicated work with the children in her cooperative group.

Meet Maram!


What are the most valuable things you have learned in the program so far?

I learned that it is wrong to a tell a child an instruction in a negative way because when I do that, he still does not know what I want him to do. Now I tell a child what I want him to do instead of what I don’t want him to do. I used to think that I should keep repeating instructions to children with autism so that they can understand but it turns out that the more I repeat it the more I distract him. Either he doesn’t understand me or he understands and doesn’t want to do it so I have to use different approaches.

 How have you been able to (or how do you anticipate that you will be able to) use these skills in your classroom?

I used to reinforce by giving the whole big thing to reinforce the children in my classroom. Now I know that I should partially reinforce every behavior until the students reach the goal that I want them to achieve.

 How has your perception of autism changed since starting this program? 

Before I thought children with autism could not improve or learn new skills but now I know that children with autism can learn and can be very smart. I can teach them any skills that I want them to know how to do.

What is a personal goal you have for the rest of the program?

Since we are in a war zone, people with autism are facing many difficulties. My personal goal is humanitarian. I want to at least contribute in a small way by being able to teach these children so that they can make improvements.

Would you recommend this program to other teachers? Why?

Of course I would recommend this training to teachers. Many teachers applied but there were limited slots in the program. It is very beneficial and can improve teachers’ skills.


Progress Report from Mersin!

With the wrap-up of the in-person portion of our Mersin training program just around the corner, we want to take a moment to recognize the outstanding progress of a few of the children in our program. Over the past two and a half months, we’ve seen breakthroughs for every child, parent and teacher in our Mersin program. We know that we will continue to have more moments to celebrate in the coming months as the families move in to the online follow-up portion of the program.

Here are some highlights from a few of our determined learners!

Haya, age 7


Known For: Being the most organized member of the A Global Voice for Autism community. If there’s a mess in sight, we can always count on Haya to clean it up!

Progress Highlights: When Haya first joined us she was primarily communicating by guiding her mother to the things she wanted. Now, Haya is using vocal approximations of one to two words to ask for the things she wants! Haya also has out-of-this-world receptive language skills. She can imitate almost any gross motor skills and quickly learns to label new objects independently. At the beginning of the program, Haya’s mother never felt comfortable taking her on community outings. After some hard work from both Haya and her mother, Haya’s mother sometimes feels comfortable taking her out into the community!

Ali, age 6.5


Known For: Being the best English speaker out of all of the parents, children and siblings at our Mersin program site. Ali teaches himself English on Youtube!

Progress Highlights: At the beginning of the program, we couldn’t get Ali out of his mother’s lap to play with another parent or teacher. Now, Ali happily joins his teachers and the other parents in the program to learn new skills, get tickled, play games and blow bubbles. Ali has also learned to interact with his peers in play, which his mother said he never did prior to the program. Ali has made so much progress in this area that he is even going to have a playdate with Reema in the coming weeks!

Amjed, age 2


Known For: Melting our hearts with his contagious smiles and enthusiastic hugs.

Progress Highlights: For the first time in his life, Amjed is pointing to ask for what he wants instead of crying or dragging his mother to it. At the beginning of the program he was not making sounds, and he’s even started making some vocal approximations!



So Many Highlights!

There were so many great moments in this week’s cooperative sessions. Here are some of our favourites:

  • One of the things we worked on with the kids this week was motor imitation. In Amjed’s session, he did few independent imitations with his teacher, Rana G, who reinforced these imitations with lots of hugs and praise. Also, Ali did a great job today imitating simple moves with minimal help from his teacher and his mother.


  • Another thing we worked on was labeling or naming items with Reema and Haya. Both of them did an excellent job trying to produce vocal approximations and sometimes echo the whole word. Also, when using pictures, both of them liked to collect each picture and put them back in the small bag as a reinforcer.


  • Our teachers this week were awesome, as usual. Fouza today was very enthusiastic during the role-play and managed to work on several skills at the same time by interspersing the trials. Rula did a great job catching Haya’s motivation to teach her labeling and imitation.


  • We also need to recognize our amazing parents who have been working with their children at home and sharing stories, videos and pictures for their children with us. Giving more learning opportunities at home helps the children to master the skills they are working on. Therefore, the parents this week were very excited to arrange a play date together to give their children more learning opportunities with other children.
  • The incredible A Global Voice for Autism team members who have been doing a fantastic job this week to manage changes in the schedules and work through extra tasks while having lots of fun with the kids and their families *Virtual high five to all team members!*


“It’s not as hard as you think to include children with autism”

How do you know when a teacher loves what she’s doing? For us, we know it from the moments when her whole face lights up at a child’s success, in the hours of dedicated practice with her colleagues after hours so that she can make sure she is effective when she teaches a child a new skill the next day. All of our teachers love what they do and love the children we serve, but we have one particular teacher who makes this clear every day. Meet Fouza, a fourth grade teacher for Syrian refugee children. Just watch her smile. You’ll know what we mean…


(Fouza cheers for Hani as he makes a breakthrough and uses four words to request the crayon he wants.)

We asked Fouza to share her experiences in the program so far, and this is what she said:

What are the most valuable things you have learned in the program so far?

I’ve learned that details and small things matter when it comes to setting up situations where children with autism can learn from me. Some of these small things are counterintuitive for me but when I use them in my teaching, they make a big difference. I’ve started to be more focused and to pay attention to everything I do because every movement can make a difference for a child.

How have you been able to (or how do you anticipate that you will be able to) use these skills in your classroom?

For the first time, I feel motivated to work with these children and to include them in my classroom. I pay more attention to the details. I used to think that there was a wall between myself and children with autism, but the more I practice and the more I learn, the more this wall is disappearing.

Would you recommend this program to other teachers? Why?

I would recommend it very strongly. I wish that all teachers could go through this training because it will help them in their teaching and with their students. There isn’t a teacher I’ve met to whom I wouldn’t recommend that they come to this training. We have a lot of teachers who care about childhood, parenting and early childhood education.

Will you start advocating for more children with autism to attend your school?

I already talked to the school management and told them that we are learning how to support children with autism and that we should accept them and include them in the school. I told them that it is not as hard as they think it is to include children with autism. They won’t harm the school and will really benefit from being included with typically developing students. The other teachers and I are already advocating for this.



For The First Time Ever

For me this morning was one of the highlights of the entire programme. We went with Amjed and his parents for a community outing to the barbers. His parents have been having difficulty cutting his hair and they reported that on previous visits the he would not tolerate sitting in the chair, they had had to hold him still in order to cut his hair, that he was always crying and screaming.


We coached them through some strategies, provided advice and answered their questions. Amjed was very motivated by watching videos on his mother’s phone and we made this contingent on sitting and having his hair cut. This means that whenever he was sitting in the barber’s chair and allowing his hair to be touched or cut he was able to watch the video, but if he started screaming or crying, or pushing the barber away then the video was removed.


This worked really well and Amjed was able to leave with a very smart haircut. His dad told us that this was the first time that he had ever seen him sitting so calmly to have his hair cut. The barber was also very pleased and told us that he was going to use these strategies with some other children who come to him for haircuts. He even started to get carried away by wanting to blow dry and style Amjed’s hair! We had to remind everyone to take small steps and make sure to finish on a positive note rather than pushing Amjed too much at once.


This afternoon we had a support group with parents and siblings of children with autism, and did some really nice activities with them. Everyone shared a story about when they had seen their child/sibling with autism ‘at their best’. Some of our favourites were Haya knowing without direct teaching to put the correct pillow and blanket on the bed of each member of her family, and Ali starting to count in English when he saw the numbers on his sister’s watch.

Everyone then shared a time when they’d seen others in the group at their best, and we had some really touching (and a few funny) observations that people had made about each other. The parents spoke about times when they’d seen each other being sweet, optimistic, smart and organised, and all of them mentioned about how they feel that they have gained close friends from this group.