AACT History

History of AACT


SILVER LINING IN THE CLOUD

Sometimes it takes what seems to be a misfortune to show us the real blessings in our lives. Having sojourned through the phases of denial through to acceptance of a son’s autism and finally being able not only to smile at the progress he has made but be able to reach out to others; to encourage them too to be accepting and seek help; and to reach out to the society at large is nucleus of the story of AACT and Autism in Ghana.

 

INSPIRATION IS HER SON WITH AUTISM

Mrs. Serwah Quaynor is the founder and executive director of the Autism Awareness Care and Training (AACT). Her son, Nortey was diagnosed with autism at age 2 years, 35 years ago in the United States of America. There was very little help at that time, even in the USA. She therefore had to become a stay at home mother since there were no early intervention programs. At 4 years of age, her son, Nortey was admitted to preschool and she volunteered in his school where she got a better understanding of autism. When she returned to Ghana almost 20 years ago, searching for autism services for her son proved rather difficult. Nortey was 15 years old with raging hormones, many challenging behaviors, ranging from self-injurious behaviours (Sib’s), aggression, insomnia, to mention a few. Sleep at night was a luxury (she was lucky if she got two (2) hours). What was she to do in a country where there were no services for children with autism? she felt like an outcast, dejected, alone, and petrified! she needed to find support and fast and there was none. she found some solace in church and felt compelled to tell whoever would listen to her talk about her son and autism. Thus began autism awareness in Ghana.

Mind you not all pastors were welcoming, but she kept at it, asking for prayers and giving testimonies of how far God has brought her son and herself. Her sister was also spreading the word about autism and within a week she noticed a girl in her church that seemed to have autism.  Mom denied her daughter’s autism; only attributing child’s condition to a lack of speech. Thankfully, she met both mother and child and shared her story with her and amid tears she said she was also a returnee to Ghana and felt very isolated and confused because of her child’s autism. (The stigma one faces with autism in Ghana is horrifying.) By word of mouth she continued to talk to different people about autism and within months she got to know of a few families affected by the disorder. Thus began the autism families support group!  Through the awareness campaigns, a few other families joined the support group. Autism did exist in Ghana and she was finding it!      

She was fortunate to meet a special education teacher who was also a speech therapist. she hired him to help Nortey, her son,  at home and the parents in the support group also expressed interest in the training Nortey was getting. The Autism Awareness Care and Training (AACT) was thus birthed in 1998 in a small room at the back of her house.  Almost years on, we work out of a house in Kokomlemle and currently, we operate with close to forty children, ranging from preschoolers to young adults.  

AUTISM IN GHANA

In Ghana having a child with autism is viewed by most as a curse on the family, or worse still the mother is labeled a witch; and mother and child are shunned by society. No one wants to know or care. Many people are not seeking the necessary help that they need; instead they are hiding these children at home, locking them up in their rooms, and denying them their basic human rights.  Violent beatings are not uncommon!  Family is so important in Ghanaian society, and yet, “families” are the biggest perpetrators of this ostracism, second only to the “church”; some churches just want to exorcise this “demon” away. The level of ignorance is unacceptable! It was from her frustration over the situation that her project begun. Until the awareness campaign began almost 20 years ago, autism was not recognized by the vast majority of the population and getting support was not even an option. In our close to 20 years of awareness campaigns have impacted more than 5000 families with Autism in Ghana. Sadly today, even among the well known disability groups in Ghana, autism as a disability is considered to be a lesser disability, because the society still needs massive education on the disorder. Many children in mainstream schools who have autism but can somewhat express themselves suffer discrimination, teasing from peers and teachers and many do not even have desks and books as teachers claim they don’t sit in the class let alone participate in activities.

 

INTERVENTION

The interventions in communication for autism include in many cases Picture exchange communication and sign language for those who are non-verbal and also to help those who cannot verbally express themselves properly. There are also sensory imbalances which make them candidates for a combination of visual, spatial and auditory modes of instruction and accommodations to facilitate functioning and inclusion. Autism affects the entire being and total functioning of the individual unlike the physical disabilities which affect only a particular part of the individual. Though some persons with autism may have intellectual disability others have normal or higher than normal IQs but because they are not properly understood, their intellect, skills and talents are left undeveloped.

AUTISM AWARENESS CARE AND TRAINING

The Autism Awareness Care and Training centre [AACT] encourages inclusion into mainstream education and society. Through our almost years of service we have assisted over five hundred children and their families at the center.  AACT’s training focuses on behavior management (which is the core of the entire training programme), academics, social skills, music and art therapy, speech and occupational therapy and life skills.  Resources to train these children simply are limited here in Ghana. However, we are fortunate to receive speech/language and occupational therapy resources from international volunteers. We use local materials like the local xylophone, the dry seed of the flamboyant tree as music shakers, Djembes drums for drumming to teach music and dance. Our staff works with the children on rhythms and many of them thrive on this activity.  Since church is a vital part of Ghanaian lifestyle we spend Friday mornings in a modified worship service.  Our staff members sing praise and worship songs with the children in English and the local language and teach the children about God through song and dance. 

THE JOURNEY SO FAR AND THE LONG ROAD AHEAD

Since the inception of AACT, resources have been very difficult to come by.  My drive to start the centre was so strong that I had to dip (rather deeply) into our retirement savings (with my husband’s encouragement) to get started. I needed to “AACT”, so I did!!! Staffing is a struggle always since Autism is not recognized in Ghana and there are no courses or training provided; we have been learning through our many international volunteers, the internet, and now, thankfully, the University of Ghana is training students in Speech/Language therapy and Occupational therapy, which we are sure to benefit from. Some of our teaching assistants have had the opportunity to be trained as classroom support staff, by one of the handful Speech therapists, in Ghana, Nana Akua Owusu,SLP, founder of Awaawaa2, and by our international volunteers. AACT and Awaawaa2 have been collaborating on many fronts; doing awareness campaigns, seminars, parent training and student referrals, to mention a few. It has been a very rewarding relationship for students, parents and staff.

It has been almost 20 years since we began and we have traveled down some difficult paths, but still, we are doing our best to help as many children with autism as we can. What began with only two children has mushroomed into about 500 children walking through our doors. We have encouraged many to go to mainstream schools with facilitators who we have trained and we continue to follow-up on their progress.  We are striving to educate parents on the need to train autism caregivers to be solely for the child with autism at home, so the child continues with the structure he is learning at the center, but like everything, change is slow.   

Keeping the center running has been difficult, but many organizations and individuals have shown interest in us, so we know we are on the right path. We are grateful for the support from our sponsors; and we appreciate the recognition shown us by local and international organizations. We have had to be innovative and creative in special education, so the child with autism can stand tall, feel and find their way in the world of confusion. Our biggest challenge has been in not giving up, but we’ve done it because the challenge in answering to a child in need is a deed necessary for the good of mankind.

ACHIEVEMENTS

Facing autism with a smile

Our greatest achievements have been seeing improvement in the children and being able to place children in mainstream schools through our early intervention programmes. Other remarkable achievements have been in the improved behaviors of children which have led to easier instruction and tremendous improvements in their ability learn. We have been able to partner with a few organizations like Inclusion Ghana, In His Publications,  United Biscuit Factory and Dry Foods Processing to give our children age 16 years  to 22 years opportunities to train for employment.  

Recognition

Awards from Heartspring (a renowned disability centre in Wichita, Kansas, USA), the Ayeeko Excellence Foundation as well as the Esther Award; and citations from the then Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MOWAC) are testimonials in recognition of our efforts.

Our dream is to see a society that is more inclusive and sensitive to the needs of persons with autism.

It is time to “AACT Now!

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42 Rolyat Castle Road , Kokomlele. Accra , Ghana
Autism Awareness Care and Training (AACT)