In a world that feels pretty divided, there is a movement emerging which can serve to remind us that when human beings work together, good things happen for humanity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 68 people are diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder marked by communication, social, and sensory processing challenges. This statistic knows no boundaries. Whether someone comes from an affluent or impoverished neighborhood, whether Democrat or Republican, whether religious or not….autism is autism. Indeed, it varies in severity and presents differently from one individual to another, but those who care for someone with special needs all turn to the same studies and the same sets of best practices to be certain that potential can be maximized and quality of life can be optimized.
Here’s the amazing movement which is growing in momentum right in the Hudson Valley: people from countries all over the globe are traveling here to develop the knowledge base needed so that they can build programs for people with autism in their own countries. Yes, in spite of all of the differences people may have, there is a collective sense that we all have a social responsibility to come together to give people with autism the best opportunities for productive, fulfilling lives. It’s really wonderful.
Just a few years ago, we hosted two fellows from Bhutan as part of Anderson Center International (ACI). ACI, an initiative designed to train educators and professionals in the field, has attracted people from all corners of the globe who spend time at Anderson in order to learn how to implement evidence-based practices and how to build programs for people with autism.
The two fellows from Bhutan spent over a year studying here in Dutchess County, fully engaged in a hands-on learning experience. When they returned home to Bhutan, where people with Autism previously did not have access to the high-level services available in the United States, the fellows had the tools needed to set up an organization called Ability Bhutan Society (ABS).
According to actor Tshering Phunshtok, parent of a child now receiving services through ABS, “parents are now aware of autism and seeking support from ABS for their children. Parents have started taking extra attention and care for their children. Without ABS, many special children would be left out, unattended, and undiagnosed.”
ABS now works with parents of children in Bhutan to promote greater understanding and advocate for the needs of their children. This organization is helping to shift a cultural paradigm – and will improve the lives of countless people as a result. And this is just one of many stories of fellows from various countries seeking out opportunities to learn from leaders in the field. They aren’t concerned about how someone has responded to the latest political news in their feed — only in how they can better respond to the people with special needs whom they love. They seek out ways to learn and grow, travel across continents to obtain an education, and then bring their passion for helping others right back to their homeland.
And it all starts by making a global connection — one rooted in the understanding that we’re all part of one circle of humanity; that regardless of our belief systems, we’re all here to share information and resources in an effort to enhance the life experience for people most in need.
When we set aside our political and religious differences to embrace our roles within our human family, we can make real progress. For the children with autism who are able to get a proper education in environments that accommodate their needs, the future is bright. For their families, hope is — at long last — restored. For these countries, there’s a chance to foster understanding, promote tolerance, and give their citizens the best quality of life possible. And for all of us, there’s an opportunity to connect, listen, and learn. These bridges between people are, without question, a win for everyone involved.
Patrick Paul is the chief executive officer and executive director at Anderson Center for Autism in Staatsburg. Visit andersoncenterforautism.org to learn more.