After three days of intensive preparations, we began our family intakes this morning. Two families came to discuss their experiences and the behaviors of their children with autism and both families are excited for the start of the program. Both families brought two caregivers and we had the opportunity to speak with each caregiver separately to check for consistency in reports about child behavior and home life. We found some impressive similarities and striking differences, but above all, we were impressed by the concrete goals that the families had for their children.
One mother reported that, above all, her goal is for her child to speak. She shared with us that her child’s autism diagnosis led her community to gossip about her and to laugh at her when she walked through the streets of her village. She shared with us that, although she felt ashamed, she loves her son more than anything and will always but him before anything the community says. Another family wants their son to learn self-defense skills so that he can go out in the community on his own safely.
While the parents had their intake interviews, the children played with toys (and with each other!) in the training room. Team members had the opportunity to observe their behaviors and to note children’s strengths and challenges. One child, a four year old boy, was shy at first but was laughing and knocking over blocks within minutes. Even his mother was surprised by how quickly he warmed up to the team!
We were surprised that only two families attended the intakes in the morning. After speaking with a number of community contacts and the families that RSVP’ed but did not attend, we were confronted with the reality that the autism stigma in this community is so great that leaving home to attend an autism program is a step that many families are not yet ready for. Because of this realization, we held a community lecture this afternoon. The goal of the lecture was to teach community members basic information about autism and to encourage them to speak to their friends and neighbors about our program to encourage the families (who we know are here) to leave their homes and attend the program.
At 2:15 we were worried that no one was going to attend. By 2:30 we were overwhelmed! Every person we have met so far in the community showed up to attend our lecture and learn about autism! Participants asked great questions and especially enjoyed playing a game that involved communicating a secret message to a partner without speaking. The best part was when our Syrian local coordinator conveyed the message “I love my wife” and made her guess his message.
We were all exhausted and excited at the end of the day. After reviewing the intakes and reflecting on what went well and what we can improve (see below), two of our team members fell asleep on our front porch while I spent some time cooking and practicing Arabic with a local family. Now if you ask me, that’s the sign of a full and productive day!
What went well:
-The team quickly built strong rapport with the families and families expressed feeling happy and comfortable in our space.
-Differences in caregiver survey responses gave us key things to look for and offered us insight into families’ lives.
-Community lecture attendees were engaged throughout the lecture, asked great questions and communicated plans to speak to neighbors about the program.
-Smooth out the intake schedule so that families don’t have long wait times (we’re expecting more families tomorrow!).
-Have a separate room for kids during community lectures and only bring the kids in for activities with the parents.
-Bring snacks and drinks for the families and make sure that there is cold water available on site.
-Put flyers about the program in doctors’ offices so that the doctors can refer and encourage more families to attend.