As I prepare for my departure to Bangalore, India, I’m feeling pretty disoriented. I can’t yet fully appreciate the gravity of what, exactly, I will be doing in just about a day. After all, I’m still cranking out final research papers. This is my first time traveling/volunteering abroad for an extended period of time, and only my second time traveling to the eastern hemisphere. I pledged that this summer, the summer leading into my senior year, would be my “travel summer,” one in which I address all the regrets that might arise after graduation and ensure that they remain obsolete.
When I touch down in Bangalore, I will be met by an old family friend, Elizabeth “Liz” Albuquerque, who works as Trustee at the Bubbles Centre for Autism. Liz’s passion for raising Autism awareness is rooted close to home, as her 18-year-old daughter lives on the spectrum. Though not directly related to my particular area of study, the opportunity to visit Liz and volunteer at the Bubbles Centre began calling me even before I’d heard of the SISA fellowship. I’d never met Liz, but I was humbled by her work and her unapologetic media presence in advocating for Autism Awareness, and I felt a sense of deep pride having been associated with such a wonderful human being, albeit from a distance. The opportunity to apply for his fellowship, then, seemed to descend from the heavens (read: make its way into my inbox) at just the right time.
I am not, however, entering the field of special education empty-handed, so-to speak. I recall spending my elementary school years rushing through my coursework so I could volunteer with special needs children in the classroom next door, only to find that I was the sole volunteer. The extent of my understanding of Autism at age six, though hardly developed, was one that characterized these children simply as enjoying the smaller things in life, and requiring a little more cuddling than usual. My peers, however, had made up their minds that the weird, slow, smelly, drooling children next door were undeserving of companionship, something so fundamentally human.
This particular experience is what launched me into the field of bringing a voice to the voiceless; though the reactions described above are not uncommon amongst children, I am disheartened by the lack of awareness on part of the general U.S. population about what Autism truly is. Because a career in public policy requires that one learn as much as possible about the populations she serves, both domestically and abroad, my guiding goal of this project is to broaden my perspective on Autism Spectrum Disorders and learning disabilities as a whole.
My research project will thus delve into the curriculum of the Bubbles Centre in an attempt to discover which methods of education most significantly improve future prospects for children on the Autism spectrum. Bubbles takes an individualized and integrative approach to treatment that focuses on building self esteem and social skills through physical and mental therapy with an emphasis on continuing therapy in the home. With my research, I hope bring back a deeper understanding of the Bubbles Centre’s impact on the children and families it serves, specifically its impact on future success and social integration for students after graduation.
Thanks for tuning in.