Nipa Bhutani – Autism and ABA Consultant and Founder of Autism Support Network, Abu Dhabi
I felt very isolated after receiving the diagnosis that my child was autistic. I realized that I needed emotional support from other people who were going through or had gone through the same thing as me. That’s when support groups like Autism Support Network become our backbone,” explains Kalyani Saha, mother of a 14-year-old child with autism, who has been a part of the group since it’s inception. “It is a great way to meet other families dealing with the same challenges and the professionals that are brought in, share invaluable knowledge with us,” she adds.
This is where Nipa Bhuptani comes in. “I was inspired by their need for support and their potential for learning,” she explains when asked why she decided to work with children with Autism. “I started working in private kindergarten settings in 1991 but when I observed the number of children with a variety of special learning needs, I developed an interest and as I taught myself, I found that I needed specialized training in order to reach out to children with Autism.”
Following the training required to become a Board Certified Assistant Behaviour Analyst, Nipa began working with teachers and parents to train them on how to work with children with Autism. “It is a spectrum disorder, which means that there are a range of linked conditions, so each person with Autism is differently challenged and has a different learning style and capacity. This produces one of the biggest challenges. Parents find it difficult to understand and accept the difference in the scope of learning and abilities of their children,” she explained. But even the training given to the parents differs from that provided to the teachers, she defines, “We have to include skills that may help the parents deal with stress and anxiety. For the teachers, it’s important for them to understand what the best method is to build the learning repertoire of the child.”
Another reason why training is key is the fact that Autism is indeed, a spectrum disorder. The theories as to why some children have Autism and those that seem to believe they have the treatments, cures and therapies for it are numerous. “I do not believe in theories,” explains Nipa, “I believe in evidence supported by data. There is now enough evidence to show that there are some genetic and environmental factors related to the disorder but there is no specific cause. Because of this, I prefer to focus on the individual child.
With the rise in the number of children with Autism in the region and worldwide, Nipa believes that awareness is key. “Currently, in USA as declared by CDC as of April 2014, one in every 68 children has been diagnosed with Autism and we need to keep people informed about the many nuances of this disorder,” she says. Which is why her work as the founder of the Autism Support Network, Abu Dhabi is critical.
Established as a platform for parents and professionals who have been touched by Autism, the network has been raising Autism awareness on various levels. “It’s important to support the families on a social and educational level. There are not many opportunities for training so we try to provide that to them. The network is also a safe place for the parents to communicate with one another and share their difficulties with a body that could voice them to the decision makers of the UAE,” says Nipa while explaining how the network creates an impact in the community. But foremost, Nipa wants Autism Support Network to be a non-profit facility that can provide diagnosis, assessment, education, counseling and therapeutic support to the children and the families that have been affected by Autism.
By Sharon Carvalho