Summer at BMC

Sun-soaked postcards from Bryn Mawr College

Huong Giang Le ’15: Autism? It might not be what you think it is!

Since the beginning of June, our summer project “Unconditional Love,” proudly funded by the Davis Project for Peace Grant, has officially started!

The "Unconditional Love" project in Vietnam.

The “Unconditional Love” project in Vietnam.

Here’s a brief description of who we are and what we do: Last summer a group of students, including myself,  founded a volunteer club for children with autism. We named it after the familiar but amazing little toy “rubik,” for each unique combination of colors in each move could be thought of as representing the various dimensions and characteristics of people on the spectrum. Hence the birth of RUBIC   (with a little twist at the last letter  just to make us special – might have helped people avoid confusion with other clubs that actually has something to do with the cube!) ” Unconditional Love” is our second project, which was designed in response to the dramatically increasing number of autism diagnoses in Vietnam. What we lack are the corresponding increase in awareness of the disorder and support for the affected community, including individuals with autism and their families.

The goals of our project are threefold: 1) to help children with autism develop social skills through interacting and playing activities with volunteers, 2) to provide  training in autism intervention for volunteers who mostly are majoring in special education, social work or psychology, and who wish to pursue careers in the field in the future, and 3) to make the first attempt to educate the public about autism – which is still being associated with many social stigma and misconceptions.

So we started off with a series of training sessions for our volunteers, parents, and those who are interested, covering the some of the most important topics in the field, including Understanding Autism, Behavior Management, Language Development, and Group Play Activities. Since I am still in Melbourne for an exchange semester until the end of June, I actually can’t attend these first events of the project (That’s why I’d be forever thankful for the Internet and technology that help my involvement in the project possible – in fact I have been able to keep close contact and work with other team members through all stages of preparation!) Three (out of 5 in total) training sessions took place in the last three weeks, with increasingly encouraging feedback from participants. The turnouts for the later sessions were higher, though still a little less than our expectation. As mentioned above, we also attempt to deliver some messages to the general public to increase autism awareness. If you’re still wondering about the title of this blog post, here’s the answer: Until now, among the most stereotyped and misleading, but popular beliefs about autism in Vietnam is that autism is just another form of depression, possibly due to superficial similarities such as social and communication difficulties. Or some people still believe autism results from rejecting and neglecting parenting and put all the blame on the parents. So we’ve got a long way ahead to clarify these stigmas! But we’re not giving up!

Members of the "Unconditional Love" project in Vietnam.

Members of the “Unconditional Love” project in Vietnam.

In the next couple of week, our volunteers, hopefully equipped with new knowledge and skills, will spend 2 hours/week at children’s home and 2 hours more during weekend, to organize fun but educational activities to help the children practice or learn new social skills. As far as I know, this is the first attempt to organize outdoors activities for a group of children with autism in Hanoi! So,  I’m very excited to see it happen, and that I will be home to join it soon as well, although I know I will miss Melbourne terribly.

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