To me, working in the field of behavior therapy is about the life-changing milestones we, as clinicians, are able to create for our kiddos and their families. Do you remember the first time you felt that all-encompassing sense of pride when your kiddo mastered a target they had been working on for weeks, if not months? For me, it was when a four-year-old, non-vocal client spontaneously walked over to his mother and said, “mama”. We had been pairing the word “mama” with his mother for months using behavior analytic strategies and then one day, it just clicked. His mother picked him up, grasped him like she never had before, and her adoration and pride for what her son had just accomplished shined brightly through her tears of joy. This moment will be captured in my heart forever, but more importantly, it is the reason I decided to apply to take part in the volunteer Global Autism Project -- because I truly believe that every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential no matter the circumstances.
In October 2019 I will be traveling to the Kaizora Institute for Neurodevelopmental Therapies in Kenya with five other Global Autism Project SkillCorps team members. SkillCorps teams are made up of skilled professionals autism self-advocates working in the field of autism education. The overseas teams are trained and prepared to support educators, leaders, parents and advocates working in their own communities. The Global Autism Project believes that local people will lead the way to acceptance and opportunity for people with autism in their own communities, and the SkillCorps teams are there to support them every step of the way!
In many countries around the world, and specifically in Africa, the is no word for “autism” in the local languages. And, because there is no understanding or recognition of autism, children are often ostracized, hidden away, and abused. At times, their families or neighbors try to “cure” them using dangerous, sometimes even fatal, methods. With my knowledge of behavior-based principles, my two weeks in Kenya will be spent empowering the community to address the needs of individuals affected by autism through education, outreach, training, and the promotion of acceptance and compassion. We know that every child is capable of learning. As educated clinicians we are in the unique and critical position to change the lives of children on the spectrum all over the world.
The SkillCorps selection process was rigorous and included an extensive application, initial interview, reference checks and two selection rounds. Finally, out of hundreds of applicants from across the U.S., six of us were chosen to be the Kenya SkillCorp team. The moment I received my acceptance letter I knew my life was about to change. Not only do I get to travel the world, but I get to make a real difference for the population of children that I hold so dear to my heart.
I am so grateful for the support and mentorship I have received from my Behavior Frontiers family without whom this opportunity would not be possible. My liaison BCBA Supervisor, Samantha Gonzales’ professionalism and devotion to her clients, their families and to her work are everything I aspire to be. Her dedicated mentorship has helped mold me into the passionate clinician I am today. Associate Clinical Director, Tara Haggerty and Clinical Director Sara Yanez have had a deep and lasting impact. Their knowledge of applied behavior analysis is astounding, but even more importantly, their natural ability to teach has allowed me to thrive as a behavior therapist and become a case manager. And, I’d like to express my deepest appreciation to Helen Mader, Executive Director, and Bryan Mader, Chief Financial Officer, who have generously contributed to this meaningful endeavor. It is because of their generosity and direct support that I was able to reach my fundraising goal for my upcoming trip with the Global Autism Project!
My time in Kenya will challenge me and teach me in ways that I can’t even imagine. I anxiously embrace the challenge that awaits because my experience at Behavior Frontiers has taught me that it is when we are pushed and challenged that we grow the most.
Deanna Guzman, M.S.
August 13, 2019
Deanna Guzman joined Behavior Frontiers in 2017. She works with clients, families and staff as a Case Manager in our Orange County-West region.