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If you walk inside the gate of our primary school at 8:00 on a Friday morning, you’ll see hundreds of students standing in concentric circles around the flag pole. They’ll be singing—some of them mumbling—the Kenyan national anthem, thinking about an exam they have later in the day, or maybe the goat meat they’ll eat for lunch. You’ll quickly notice that everyone is in a red sweater, girls have white socks, boys have gray. But as much as students may sound and look alike during this part of the day, if you stick around a little longer, you’ll see how neurodiverse they are. We have students on the autism spectrum learning and singing alongside neurotypical children.
We have students on the autism spectrum learning and singing alongside neurotypical children.
Some of our students on the autism spectrum have been in regular education classrooms since they started school. Others have just joined school for the first time this term, as we’ve started offering additional services for students with disabilities. Every child with autism is different, but autism typically influences verbal and nonverbal communication, the ability to adapt to changes in the environment and routines, and sensory experiences. We give extra support in each of these areas, based on the child’s needs.
Every child with autism is different, but autism typically influences verbal and nonverbal communication, the ability to adapt to changes in the environment and routines, and sensory experiences.
So far, we’ve focused the most on working to improve students’ communication skills. To assess these skills, we use an assessment tool called The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP), adapted to be administered in Swahili. This gives us a road map for developing an individualized plan for intensive, functional language training. However, there are not many professionals in Kenya trained to administer this kind of test, and relatively few teaching resources have been created for it in Swahili. Since most of our students are more familiar with Swahili, it will be really valuable to have more of these resources. We’re working on creating some, and look forward to finding partners to work with us on creating more.
This gives us a road map for developing an individualized plan for intensive, functional language training.
Our long-term goals for our students are for them to be independent, with both work and leisure skills, and part of their communities. For this to happen, it’s important that they spend as much time as they can with their peers. Our students with autism are not hidden away in a corner of the school; we give them extra support wherever they need it. Whether it’s eating a plate of beans and rice on the field, participating in a science class, or standing around the flagpole on Friday mornings, we are there to ensure that every student is able to develop independent skills and be part of the school community.
Featured image © Danielle King.
Sarah Davis is a teacher by profession. She holds an undergraduate degree in elementary and special education, and has experience working with learners with and without disabilities in the U.S. and Kenya. Currently, she is working with Girl Child Network to improve access to and quality of education for children with autism and other developmental disabilities in Nairobi.