Nipa Bhuptani, an Autism advocate and a practitioner in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) engages in education, empowerment & awareness. She was invited to the United Nations for the celebration of World Autism Awareness Day – 2016 , as a panel speaker to share her experience as an Autism Consultant in the Middle East region for over 20 years.
As a Regional Associate for Competent Learner Model (CLM) in Middle East and India, Ms. Nipa provides oversight for CLM Early Intervention Program teams in UAE. She is the founder of Autism Support Network, Abu Dhabi and Applied & Behavior Training Institute.
We take the pleasure in engaging this interview with Ms. Nipa, as she unfolds the anecdotes.
As a professional into the field for more than two decades, how did the idea to set up a community organization emerged?
The journey started about 30 years ago when I started working with Kindergarten children. I noticed lots of children with additional needs in my classroom, which further led me to work towards helping them. The first step I committed myself was to have an in-depth study to have a well-defined professional pathway. As, I studied further I have gained an accurate understanding about children with developmental disabilities and behavioral challenges. Following Board certification (BCaBA), I started an Autism Unit at a Special Needs Centre in Abu Dhabi. I continued my studies to complete a Masters in Special and Inclusive Education.
Over the time that flowed, I grasped the pressing need for parent support. During those times, community support for parents were extinct, I was determined to work towards building a network for the parents.
Having talked about your interest in engaging with autism, what were the first few steps you followed to work forward?
Beginning with a free network called the Autism Support Network Abu Dhabi (ASNAD) was started. It started off as a small idea in my house with 4 or 5 mums. And it started to grow, it grew quite a bit. We now we have several humdred members.
ASN’s goal is to provide educational and social networking opportunities for parents and professionals touched by Autism. ASN also endeavours to provide information for new families who had just moved to UAE or for those whose children were recently diagnosed.
As ASNAD grew, realising the need for a systematic training was the need of the hour. Though, we engaged in committing to small workshops, the necessity for systematic training and building skills, empowering the trainers, parents and the adults working with children was immense.
In response to build an atmosphere of structured training and Early Intervention, Applied and Behavioral Training Institute (ABTi) was born three years ago. It started with a couple of my colleagues who had started training with me even before we started the institute. We have grown from a team of four to 17 today having provided certified training to almost 200+ through the institute and provided intervention to over 60 young children with autism.
How does one become a member of Autism Support Network, if they are interested?
The parents become a member simply by emailing us. They are then automatically a part of our data base enabling them access to our resources and training opportunities for free. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Autism Support Network is now ASN-UAE and continues to grow as the Corporate Social Responsibility of ABTi.
While ASN grows alongside, how do you think ABTi will facilitate its function?
ABTi had two aims, first to train and empower adults who work with children with additional needs and second, to provide early intervention to children within their natural settings. Our training courses are built in response to providing efficient knowledge in working with children. We facilitate our training schedule on our website as well as our social media handles. One can easily join our trainings based in Applied Behavior Analysis in two levels by mailing us. email@example.com
In a line, brief us on what ABTi is not?
We are NOT a centre for children with Autism, we are Early Intervention providers who believe that every child should be provided the opportunity to learn in their natural environment (eg – nursery, preschool, home). We provide Early Intervention services to young children in nurseries and preschools in UAE.
In your years of experience, what do you think autism is challenged with?
A challenge of all days is inclusion, the understanding of the difficulties that a person with autism has is often neglected by the community. A child with autism often finds difficulty in school, as there isn’t enough support. Although legislation now (states) schools cannot refuse children since the child has autism, there isn’t enough accountability; they might refuse the child just by saying they don’t have space. Even in situations in which parents are willing to send their children to specialize centres, there’s not enough availability.
As a growing organization, its definite to have faced challenges in setting up such a service. In the course of building ABTi, mention a few challenges that were hard to conquer.
In every organization, a few challenges are certain. To have an appropriate applicable license category was demanding as we are a unique service combination that provides training to adults and intervention to children but not in the traditional centre or clinic based design. As a self – funded start-up, initially we found it tough to manage all the establishment costs. Lack of professional standards and licensing for Applied Behavior Analysis in the UAE continue to remain our concerns.