Did you know there are 70 million people around the world with autism and 85% of them reside in developing countries ?
Based in New York, the Global Autism Project (GAP) is a community-capacity building program. Through hands on training and workshops, trained professionals empower disadvantaged communities to better support the growth and development of individuals with autism.
Autism is a brain-based condition that individuals are born with . Symptoms often become apparent in early childhood and can vary. The condition is scaled according to a spectrum which describes the range of social development abilities and restricted behaviours.
April is World Autism Awareness Month and campaigns such as Go Blue for Autism are well under well. Stepping Up 2013 Alumni and now applied behavioural therapist, Analise Vella has been active on her social media channels doing her bit to raise awareness. Later this year, she will be joining the G.A.P team in Indonesia. Previous G.A.P placements have brought together supervisors, therapists and speech pathologists from around the world in locations such as Kenya, India, the Dominican Republic and Africa.
Analise is one Alumni I have enjoyed staying in touch with and watching her development. The following exhange took place over email.
What led you to becoming an applied behavioural therapist?
I started studying Psychology at the University of Wollongong, and I had absolutely no idea what area in the field I wanted to pursue! I was finishing up my second year of the degree and needed to get some experience in the field. I saw a job advertisement to be a carer for an austic woman and, despite the position falling through, I became interested in how I could be invovled.
Google became my friend and I quickly found that there was A LOT of children who needed early intervention. The Lizard Centre based in Lane Cove is where it all started for me. After commencing training and working with with a family, I quickly fell in love with behavioural therapy – I had always wanted to work with children, well who doesn’t they are too cute!
A year went by and I worked with three different families doing home-based therapy. At the end of my undergraduate degree I knew I didn’t want to become a psychologist or pursue my honours and that I wanted to continue as an ABA therapist with more full time hours. Tayla, who was my first child to work with, was finishing up with The Lizard Centre to go to Woodbury Autism Education and Research (the only independent ABA school for children on the spectrum). Both the family and I didn’t want to lose one another so I applied for a job at the school. In a weeks time I was working full time as a behavioural therapist at the school and Tayla soon followed (we are a great duo)! The School and what they do for these children and families is AMAZING!
How did you come across the work of G.A.P and what made you sign up?
I began studying right away after high school for three years, I was so used to working three jobs studying full time and never having a night off! So when I graduated and began working for Woodbury, I had no idea what to do after school. I knew I didn’t want to pursue more education (just yet ha) and I wasn’t feeling particularly passionate about art any more as I had found something completely new to put my creative thought and practice in. I was bored out of my brains! I needed to work on something productive and meaningful so I decided I wanted to volunteer. I wanted to do something that has a sustainable impact on developing countries rather than just “doing some good”. Everything I found wasn’t what I had wanted to do until I found the Global Autism Project. It was an ABA trip overseas to work with these countries like Indonesia, Kenya, Dominican Republic and India. I was amazed with everything that the organisation does and I had to be apart of it. So I applied and now here I am.
What process did you have to undertake to be involved?
Firstly I needed to fill out an application with my resume, personal details and why I wanted to be apart of the team. The second part was to call my references and make sure I was a therapist and that I was good at what I do! Next is what I dreaded the most – the phone interview at 6am in the morning! Thank you time zones! Two weeks later I am accepted into the Skillcorps Team, I meet my team members and a whole group that is a part of this amazing community!
Cool! So what is next? How long will you be in Indonesia and what will you be doing?
I go to New York first to have a 2-day orientation and then fly to Indonesia! It is a 2-week opportunity to use my skills and transform these children’s lives. There are three main goals that the Skill corps team aims to teach:
- To address needs by training other staff of these centres, parents and caregivers
- To instill hope by targeting skills, which will assist these children with autism to reach, they’re full potential in their communities.
- Cultural humility, by tackling important community issues like awareness and advocacy
You are asking your network (and others) for support, what will donations contribute to?
Donations will contribute to approximately 70% of the programming that the incredible staff creates for these children! These funds will enable us to actively work on skills straight away! The 30% leftover goes towards the administration and the cost of the trip, which covers accommodation in New York and in Indonesia, 1-2 meals per day and also in country transportation.
Fundraising is a great way to spread the word about the Global Autism Project, spread awareness for autism abroad, and also spread the importance of sustainable development.
What three tips can you provide to my readers for working with people with autism?
BE CREATIVE in everything you do, the way you play and teach. Each child/person is different so think out side the box.
Have patience. It is such an important quality to have for your self so you don’t burn out too quickly. Also it benefits them too, because the littlest things can be the hardest problems to tackle.
If you would like to help Analise and can spare some money, please consider donating here – https://www.crowdrise.com/analisevella. Be sure to keep in mind the US conversation rate.
 One of the great things I learnt about G.A.P in my research for this interview was their clear distinction between their skills-based program and ‘voluntourism’. Often undertaken with the best intentions, untrained and unskilled individuals often travel to places around the world to provide support or aid. This is known as ‘voluntourism’. These sorts of programs risk being a disservice to the community they support. G.A.P is conscious of this behaviour, which is why they only work with trained professionals, ensuring the best support possible is provided.