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By Fatima Lodhi: Coordinator/Behavior Therapist at Autism Resource Centre
There are few things that have a significant impact on our lives. For me, one of those things has been the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing people as a Behavior Therapist.
Around December 2015, I got the chance to work as an Intern Behavior Analyst at Shifa International Hospital. Ms. Haleema Sadia (Autism Specialist) is running the Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) service at Shifa International Hospital since 2013. Prior to this, I had limited experience of working with children who had special needs.
From the very beginning, I developed a keen interest in this field, and while observing the sessions, I learned a lot from Ms. Haleema Sadia and Ms. Bushra Jameel. Gradually I started participating in the ABA sessions, and soon after completion of my training, I started taking independent ABA sessions.
Before delving into what these sessions taught me, let’s just quickly discuss what Autism really is. Here’s a simple explanation according to Autism Speaks:
“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.”
“Autism’s most-obvious signs tend to appear between 2 and 3 years of age. In some cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Some developmental delays associated with autism can be identified and addressed even earlier. Autism Speaks urges parents with concerns to seek evaluation without delay, as early intervention can improve outcomes.”
While working as an ABA therapist I came across some quite challenging behaviors in children, such as self-injurious behavior, aggression, hyperactivity, and noncompliance. Most of the children I was working with were non-verbal, which became a daunting task at times.
They used to kick, hit, bite, spit and even pull my hair. However, none of that frustrated me. I realized that they had no other way to communicate. They were trying to communicate something to me and it was my job to try to help them by responding and redirecting them in different areas. It was amazing to see a non-verbal child uttering his/her first word. Or a non-compliant child following your directions, even making eye contact. Our efforts showing remarkable results in these children was a priceless feeling.
These children live in their own world. And if you enter their world you realize how beautiful and different it is.
The way they see and do things and the way they understand and learn new things is way different from ours. While working with them, you get really attached to them and their families. It is also because they can only progress if parents and professionals work hand in hand.
Looking back at my life, I recall myself as an impatient young girl. It was only after I worked with these children that I discovered a different side of myself. It taught me patience, humbleness, open-mindedness, flexibility, compassion and being non-judgmental.
Currently, I am working at the Autism Resource Centre Islamabad. I am lucky enough to work under the supervision of my mentor, Ms. Haleema Sadia, as she is the Director at ARCI. She is one of the most dedicated people working for this cause. At ARCI, I am working as a Coordinator. Being an ABA therapist is my passion. Thus, I continue to provide Behavior Therapy sessions after my official work hours.
The love, affection and attachment these children show towards me and my fellows cannot be expressed in words. They’ve taught me the actual meaning of love and made it clear that love needs no words.
I can say with complete confidence that nothing has influenced me the way that group of kids has. I only wish they could know how much they taught me and how much they mean to me. We are blessed to have them. In fact, working with these kids helped me realize what I wanted to pursue as a career and I could see myself working with these very special individuals for the rest of my life.
This World Autism Day, let’s acknowledge and appreciate these precious individuals. Let’s celebrate their differences and recognize that they are no lesser in any way whatsoever. Moreover, let’s finally undo the stigma around Autism. Acceptance is, after all, always important.
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Cover image via: parents.com