Make Hartha Clean Again!

In a meeting earlier this week, Hartha’s mayor informed us that 30 years ago, Hartha used to be much better, wealthier and cleaner than it is now. He said that back then, you never saw the piles of trash that haphazardly line the streets today, that employment opportunities were plentiful and that municipal services were able to meet community needs. Today, the Hartha community dreams of those days 30 years ago when they felt their lives were easy. Today, our team, families and teachers dream of a Hartha where children with autism are valued and included for who they are.

And so, with the shared goals of the municipality and A Global Voice for Autism’s training cohort in mind, on September 22nd, over 90 young volunteers with and without autism set out on a coordinated clean-up mission to “Make Hartha clean again. In doing so, they were reminded of the valuable ways that individuals with autism can help the community thrive, and played their part in creating a cleaner, healthier Hartha.

Children with and without autism, aged 4-17 joined us for the event. They were broken into teams, based on age, that were led by A Global Voice for Autism’s teacher trainees. Together, the children collected more than 140 bags of trash over a three-kilometer area. As children reflected on the ways that their peers with autism contributed to the event, they also thought about their own habits–whether they and their families tend to throw trash in the streets–and how they might set an example for their family members and neighbors so that they can live in a cleaner community.

While children younger than ten cleaned the public park, older children cleaned the area around Hartha circle and the road that connects the circle to the park. The municipality supported the event by providing trash trucks to collect the trash bags, and provided additional bags after we far surpassed the 80 bags of trash we thought we would collect. Together, our youth collected over 140 bags of trash, built friendships across difference, and truly did their part to make Hartha clean (and great!) again.




Achieving Independence

As our training program in Jordan prepares to wind down, we are working to ensure that our teachers and families have the tools to continue to develop the skills they’ve learned and to implement them to support their children. And so, just as we work with our children on developing skills for independent living, we are now working with our parents and teachers on doing the same.

In recent weeks, we have been reducing the number of prompts we provide to parents and teachers in cooperative sessions. Where we once had them walk in and start by watching a demonstration of skills to be practiced throughout the day, we now have them come in and remind them of the session’s goals, and then have them select their materials and start working with their children as our team watches and takes data on progress and parental skills development.

Today, Hamza’s mother showed us how she works with Hamza on using vocal approximations to ask for the things he wants. He has now mastered the pointing we worked on in earlier sessions and uses it regularly to request all sorts of things on a daily basis. Now, she is working with him on using sounds to ask for the things he wants.

Issa’s father has been working with Issa on pointing to request, and today in our session, we saw Issa initiate a point independently for the first time!

We are so impressed by Issa and Hamza’s hard work, but we are also impressed by their parents’ ability to take the skills they learn during training sessions and to apply them with their children outside of the classroom. These days during cooperative sessions, the team offers feedback and teachers switch in and out to practice with the children, but every week the families are becoming more independent in their skills and practice…and that is exactly what we want.



Collecting Data, Tracking Change, and Honing our Acting Skills

Today, our teachers came together for a training on data collection and how it can be used in the classroom. This is a skill that will be useful to them, not only when they are working with children with autism, but also when they are managing their classrooms, where they at times support children who display challenging behaviors or children who struggle to learn according to the ways they teach.

Our teachers teach 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 10th grade boys and girls and have students with a diversity of needs in their classrooms. While they are creative and entrepreneurial in their approaches to teaching, they all acknowledge that their are gaps in the knowledge and training they need to meet their students’ learning needs. Teachers can use data collection to identify their students’ needs and to measure their students’ progress in the classroom.

We started our session with a review of expressive and receptive communication. For those of you unfamiliar with these concepts, expressive communication is known as speaker behavior, but it doesn’t have to involve speaking. Some people point, sign, use gestures or exchange pictures to communicate expressively.

Receptive communication is also known as “listener behavior,” or, when people respond expressive communication. Some examples of receptive communication include:

-Bending down to tie your shoes when someone says “tie your shoes”

-Opening the door when being told to open the door

-Picking up a phone and handing it to a child who points to it

After reviewing these concepts, we also talked about strategies for teaching expressive and receptive communication and the importance of using prompts that can be easily faded so that children do not learn to rely on a prompt to complete an action, and can become independent in their skills. To assess children’s progress in receptive and expressive communication, data collection strategies are very valuable.

A teacher and parent perform an example of non-verbally prompting a child’s behavior. Our teacher, Taghreed, took on the role of A’s Father’s mother and prompted him to hand her the beanbag without verbally telling him to do so.

We reviewed how to take partial interval, frequency and percentage data and then went on to practice defining behaviors in ways that are specific, observable and measurable so that consistent data can be collected. We had the teachers write down behaviors and practiced acting out throwing food, opening the door and hitting a peer, while challenging the teachers to make these behaviors more and more specific until they all agreed on the number of times the behavior was displayed during each example.

Teachers cheer each other on as they perform and take data on different “specific, observable and measurable” behaviors.

At the end of the session, we gave our teachers a homework assignment to collect partial interval or frequency data on a behavior displayed in their classrooms. The teachers all agreed that they want to reduce the behavior of students calling out in class “me, me, me” or “teacher, teacher, teacher” and to replace this behavior with students raising their hands quietly. We’ve promised them that we can help them reduce this behavior and look forward to getting their data sheets back next Sunday.

We shared lots of laughter, movement and games in our session today (we are proud of our teachers’ theater skills!) and look forward to more engaging sessions like this one in the coming month!



Pictures from our Sibling Social Skills Group

On Thursday afternoon, our siblings and children with autism came together for a social skills group with our team and the teachers in our program. We started by sharing about our weeks in a blanket fort, then played catch and practiced passing a ball around the circle as quickly as possible inside our fort. Families then got together to draw pictures of their families, with all family members participating in the completion of the drawing, while teachers came up with games that they could use to help children learn to pay attention and follow directions.

After primary school learning difficulties teacher Abdelhameed led a game of “stand up, sit down” to help kids work on following directions and got feedback from his peers on how he could make the game more engaging for students, first grade teacher Kholoud led a game of “catch” to help kids work on paying attention. Next week, each of the teachers will have 15 minutes to teach a lesson to their “classroom” of students with and without autism so that they can develop their classroom management skills while the kids continue to have fun.

Blanket fort for our sibling social skills group.
Siblings share about their weeks during sibling social skills group.
Families worked together to draw pictures of their families in sibling social skills group.
Kholoud’s game of “catch” to teach children to pay attention.

Talent+Hard Work=Recipe for Success

Stephen King once said, “Talent is cheaper than salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” The kids we are supporting in this community are some of the most talented kids I’ve ever met and they are working hard to achieve the weekly goals we set for them. Some of the tasks we are teaching, like communication and play skills, take more work for our kids than for kids without autism, but with their hard work and the dedication of our families, we are certain they will succeed.

A resting after an activity filled session Wednesday afternoon.

Today we had a great session with A. It was one of the most challenging sessions yet for him and his father, but we know that the strategies practiced today will be helpful in the long term. A has learned that he can get the things he wants by screaming, kicking and throwing objects and one of our goals is to stop reinforcing these behaviors and reinforce him for asking for the things he wants. This is something important for his father as well as these behaviors can cause him headaches and even lead to physical injuries. In the session today, we worked on teaching A’s father not to let him use these behaviors to escape from tasks, and instead to ignore these behaviors and find opportunities to prompt him to complete the requests made of him and to reinforce when he does so. As we do this, it is also important that we teach A to ask for a break so that he can communicate his needs.

We also gave the teacher who participated in A’s session the opportunity to work with him on the questions we were teaching him to answer. After watching his father work with him on community safety questions like “What is your name?” “How old are you?,” “Where do you live?” and “What is your address?” the teacher learned quickly and was able to jump in and work with A.

As A learns that kicking and screaming will no longer allow him to escape from tasks he doesn’t want to do, we explained to A’s dad that these behaviors might get worse before they get better. Since this is what has worked for A before, he may try to do more of it than he used to so that he can get what he wants. Once he sees that this doesn’t work anymore, he will start using his new replacement behavior (asking for a break) during situations like these. We know that today was a challenging one for both A and his father, but A’s father found the day valuable and knows that anything is possible if he persists and stays dedicated to his son’s progress.

For me, the most beautiful thing about working in this village in northern Jordan is all the love they have to share. Today, one of the families in the community was celebrating their daughter’s first birthday, and invited us to join. As we joined them in this wonderful celebration, we were reminded that no matter how daunting the future seems or how challenging things get, you can still enjoy the special things you have in the present moment. We hope that our families will always remember to enjoy the present as they work toward their futures.




New Friends and Social Skills

Our parents and team members agreed that today was the best day of the program so far. At the end of the session, Issa’s father said: “Today was the most useful session for me because I really got an understanding of how to do these things with my son. Last week, I learned some great concepts, but today I really felt that the day was all about my son.”

Why was today special?

Today we held a social skills session for Issa and Hamza. Both boys are working on expressive communication with pointing and vocal approximations as well as engaging in new activities and following directions, so we played games that focused on these skills. Since the boys like the spinning top, we started by having them play with the top with Issa’s dad. When Hamza went to grab the bubbles, we switched to having the boys request bubbles by pointing/saying part of the word for bubbles. Issa is just starting to point with help, but in the past two weeks Hamza has started pointing independently to ask for things he wants.

We then played catch with Hamza’s siblings and Issa’s father and then, seeing how Issa loved to hide in the corner, decided to try a game of hide and seek.

Both boys loved hiding, counting and finding their friends and wanted to continue the game. We played 6 rounds of hide and seek before switching to a jumprope game.

Staff, parents and siblings had a great time acting out animals like snakes and bears and by the end of the session, everyone was laughing and no one could believe a full hour had passed.

Siblings and parents alike were ecstatic to see their children playing together and are looking forward to more social skills sessions next week.





School Visits, Community Responsive Programming and Violent and Self-Injurious Behaviors

This morning, we started our day with a visit to a local kindergarten class. Seeing the teacher in action helped us develop a greater understanding of the techniques used and by teachers and the challenges they may face in integrating children with autism into their classrooms.

Later this afternoon, we had a training for our teachers and families that was hosted virtually by an A Global Voice for Autism BCBA and BCaBA who specialize in addressing violent and self-injurious behaviors. Families enjoyed hearing from some new voices and asked important questions about their children’s own challenging behaviors.

One parent asked about the best way to address his son frequently hitting him, both when he’s happy and when he’s angry. Another parent shared that her son often cries and becomes aggressive when she takes her phone from him and asked what she should do about this. The parents also started offering suggestions to each other like “intercept the hitting and ask him for a high-5.” They offered support to one another and empathized with each other’s experiences.

In addition to our typical session today, we hosted a feedback session for program participants to see how we can adjust the program to better meet their needs. One common theme that emerged was that parents want more community events and spaces where their children can go and play safely as there are few free spaces for their children to play. We brainstormed ideas for community events and are going to start by hosting an inclusive carnival for the community next week.