The below was written for ABA Senegal's November 2019 Global Giving report to Develop Africa. You can find our Global Giving page here: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/support-therapy-for-children-with-autism-senegal/photos/#menu
This month we want to give special recognition to a wonderful boy (we’ll call him Amadou) who has been with us since September. When we started school inclusion for Amadou, he was the first boy the teacher had ever seen “like this.” Though the school is experienced with school shadows, the school had not yet been ready to accept children of Amadou’s profile: Pre-verbal with LOTS of energy! Normally children like him are sent to “specialized schools” which are often overcrowded, underfunded, and undertrained. His teachers were so overwhelmed that they began speaking of not letting him back in school. This is something we really wanted to avoid.
In the beginning, he was only able to sit in class for about 15 seconds total. He preferred wandering around the room and “getting into things” (exploring his new environment), jumping and screaming (letting out internal energy, self-stimulation), and climbing over the children, touching their faces, and pulling the girls’ hair (pre-social initiations). We knew this could all be shaped and replaced over time with behaviors that are socially acceptable, but that Amadou would still prefer to do.
Here’s what we did: At home, we began to make the table a FUN space! Though there were a couple toys he could play with on the floor, the really special ones (the ones that Adair brought) he had to play with seated at the table. We kept them in a clear box so he couldn’t access them without an adult’s help (a strategy to encourage communication). We did tabletop time like this for 2 weeks before school started, pairing the word “sit” with these fun activities. Then, for most of September, we did the same procedure at school. We didn’t let him touch anything in the classroom except his toys and the table (gentle blocking and redirecting). If he approached us or the table, he was showered with positivity and offered a quiet toy to hold on to and hugs. If he left, he had to leave his toys with us, and he did not get very much attention at all. We always left the classroom every 15 minutes and would also leave if he started getting particularly squirmy (but not yet upset). By the end of September, he was seated nicely with a small toy for 10-30 minutes on the regular. He would respond to the instruction “sit down please.” He was doing the same at home.
Once this was mastered, we began being a lot stricter about the sitting (he no longer had the right to walk around), while simultaneously giving him ways to say “all done” if he wanted to stand up and leave the classroom. We gave him some relaxing and useful things to work on outside! Though he wasn’t allowed to play (play is for recess time only), he was able to start potty training with us, started using sign language and working on his autonomy (getting his own snack and water bottle), and also doing some more classic therapy work like picture recognition (in exchange for a couple of cookies). Then we would go back inside and see what the class what up to. His shadow was trained to stay outside if it wasn’t something useful for him. If it was active, social, artsy, or involved music, then we were good to go back inside!
Today, Amadou loves school and the teachers are satisfied with his goals, progress, and support. He has 1-2 goals for each activity during the day. He’s high-fiving other kids and even passing balls and toys around. He has begun imitating some words and, combined with the sign language he has learned as well as his frequent movement breaks, his negative behaviors have gone down to almost zero. We are extremely proud of Amadou, and we are optimistic that he has a great year ahead of him!
We wish we could post some photographs of this wonderful boy, but we need to respect confidentially guidelines. Instead, we’ll post some alternative photos.
-Your ABA Senegal team
Below: Outdoor toy shopping in Ouakam, Dakar