Education is the key to raise ASD awareness in Georgia, US Experts Say
12 September, 2016
Education is the key to raise ASD awareness in Georgia, US Experts Say
Every year, we are witnessing a rise in the number of people that are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Out of every 68 child, one is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (CDC, 2014). And Georgia is by no means an exception as the numbers are also on a rise here.

The Saint George Autism centre of Child Development institute at the Ilia State University in Tbilisi is the very first such institution in Georgia and uses the world-acclaimed Applied Behavioral
Analysis (ABA) methodology. For a year now, a Czech NGO, Caritas Czech Republic has been cooperating with the Institute, with funding provided through The Czech Development Agency. The Caritas project is all about aiding the development of services available to people with autism spectrum. In five regions of Georgia, family doctors took part in training sessions dedicated to issue of early stage identification of autism spectrum disorder. The role of primary health care cannot be underestimated here – the earlier the pediatrician gets aware about possible autism spectrum disorder, the sooner the early intervention will take place, which will offer a much better chances of positive outcome for each and every child.

The scope of the project also involves the qualification enhancing and retraining of the professionals working in this field, thus ensuring that people with ASD have access to quality services. This was exactly why two seasoned experts from United States visited Georgia in July and August. For two weeks, the personnel at the Child Development Institute were under the tuition and guidance of US professionals, with the session culminating into a 3 day intensive training dedicated to age-based problem behavior among children with autism spectrum disorder. The training was available for specialists from regions too, which is a much needed reprieve as most regions lack both infrastructure and expertise of dealing with such a complex issue.
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Professor Marriane Jackson and JP Moschella are the employees of California State University in Fresno, California, US. Both experts boast years of experience in applied behavioral analysis and ASD. And they aren’t first timers when it comes to Georgia too – Since 2010, when the Autism centre at the Ilia University opened, the experts paid multiple visits to Tbilisi to take part into various trainings and seminars. And as for every good tradition, it has bore quite a fruit - for those 6 years, more than 300 students of psychological faculty from Georgian universities got their hands a beyond-basics know-how on what is the ASD and how to effectively handle it.

But despite such endeavors and notable progress in enhancing the accessibility of services available to people with the ASD, Georgia is still some distance apart from what is considered desirable worldwide. Prof. Jackson, while talking with Georgia Today, even went as far as comparing the situation in Georgia with what was in the United States some 20 years ago. However, she added, just like in America, the way is upwards from there, with society becoming more and more aware of the needs and specifics of people with the ASD.

“First thing to do is to make these services accessible everywhere, not just in Tbilisi, where people encounter financial difficulties. Second, the awareness of parents should be raised – right now, many of them do not know where to get adequate services, or, which government structure they have to address to get financial aid. Likewise, the medical staff has not enough knowledge when it comes to delegating the children with ASD to proper structures.” – Stressed prof. Jackson, while her colleague added that the society is still harbors some stigma over the issue.

“Once again, it begs a comparison with the U.S. twenty years ago, when the situation was very similar” – Mr. Moschella mused – “but as increasing numbers of children with ASD where accommodated in the schools, their schoolmates, their parents and society as the whole got more aware about just how important these issues are”.
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A simple truth as it may be, both experts insist that education is key. More education is required at every step of ASD management – Parents, pediatricians, teachers, psychologists – all could do with more knowledge, more so the state structures, which have to design appropriate strategies for this issue. Additional emphasis needs to be done on lifelong care for people with ASD, an aspect left entirely without attention today in Georgia.

“In developed countries, many activities are carried out to help these people integrate more easily into society – Georgia shouldn’t be an exception” – Rusudan Chkhubianishvili, the lead manager of Caritas Czech Republic’s autism oriented project believes. Hard to argue with that and let’s hope that together with friends from abroad and good will of powers that be, projects like these get expanded, as they rightfully deserve to.
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