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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

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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?

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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.

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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.