Teachers from Nepal put their greater knowledge to practical use

Kripa Shresta and Jyoti Singh at the offices of the Autism and Asperger Association in Stockholm.

I meet Kripa Shresta and Jyoti Singh at the offices of the Autism and Asperger Association in Stockholm. Kripa and Jyoti are teachers at a centre for children with an autism spectrum disorder in Nepal. They are currently in Sweden to learn about and be inspired by activities here for persons with autism. 

A year ago, the Autism and Asperger Association launched a joint project with the Autism Care Nepal Society, which runs the centre in Nepal.

– It was wonderful to come to Nepal and see the huge commitment among the members and the people working at the centre. Despite a lack of resources, they have the drive to bring about change, not only for their own children, but for everyone with autism across the country, says operations manager Anna Calissendorff, who is actively involved in the project.

The centre’s activities are aimed at both the children and their parents. They hold courses for parents, teaching them what autism spectrum disorders are and how parents can manage the difficulties that arise in everyday life. It is valuable for the parents to be able to meet others in the same situation. All the teachers at the centre also have children with autism.

The Autism and Asperger Association provides practical knowledge

– The teachers at the centre know an awful lot at a theoretical level, but what we can do is help with linking the theories to practical knowledge, explains Carina Pettersson. We support the teachers in developing their capacity to make individual assessments and to adapt the content and structure of the activities to individual needs.

Kripa and Jyoti agree with what Carina says.

– We’ve learned so much here in Sweden, above all from seeing how the practical side of things works. The adults are there to help, but the starting point is always to let the children and young people be as active as possible.

It is clear what a major impression this has made on Kripa and Jyoti. In Sunne they met Johanna, a young woman who has been able to move to her own home with assistance. They relate how they were both impressed and hopeful to see how involved she is in all the household work.

– Meeting Johanna and her dad and visiting daily activities for people with autism has made us realise that we do far too much for our children, instead of helping them do things for themselves. The most important lerning for us is that we need to believe more in the children’s own abilities, so we can stimulate them to develop.

They have both seen how meaningful tasks reduce the problematic behaviour of the children and young people.

No-one in Nepal to conduct an examination and diagnosis

Kripa tells us about her son, who is now 12 years old. They realised quite quickly that he was different from other children, but there were no doctors in Nepal who were able to examine him and make the correct diagnosis. She and her husband sourced information on the internet and were advised to travel to a hospital in India. It was there that their son was diagnosed with autism and Kripa was able to attend a course for parents.

– I was initially shocked to I find out that there was no cure, he has to live with this his whole life. During the course, I started to feel increasingly hopeful as I learned about how the family’s attitude has a big impact on how he feels and develops, says Kripa.

Decided to pass her knowledge on

The school building.

The centre for children with an autism spectrum disorder in Nepal.

When Kripa returned from India, she started holding her own courses for parents at the Autism Care Nepal Society.

– Jyoti attended my first course, she says with a smile as she turns to her colleague, who also took her son to India for an examination and diagnosis.

Today, the organisation is able to provide examinations, since there is a person in Nepal who is familiar with the diagnostic instrument ADOS and who is linked to the centre. This marks a major improvement, but a great deal of work still remains to change the situation for people with autism spectrum disorders in Nepal.

– We need to inform the general public and educate parents, teachers and healthcare professionals, says Jyoti.

Through various collaborations with actors, earlier this year they set up a street theatre that proved very popular and helped make a film that was shown on TV.

We use our own experiences as good examples

The teachers’ own experiences mean they know how to treat the families who come to the centre.

– When parents come to us, they’re often extremely disappointed to learn that we can’t cure their child, states Kripa. We recognise ourselves in all their reactions and use our own children and our own experiences as good examples. As they go through the course, they start feeling better.

I ask how it feels to be so far from home.

– Wonderful, is the reply from both of them and they laugh. We have time for ourselves, while also learning so much. Our children are having a great time with their fathers, they add, smiling.

Kripa reaches for her mobile phone and asks whether I want to see a video her husband sent yesterday.

– A few years ago, nobody thought he would be able to talk, but he can now and look, here he is singing a whole song with his dad, she says, as she proudly shows the video of her son singing to the camera.

Lina Jakobsson