Did you know that in Laos there is no word for Autism?
This World Autism Awareness Day, meet Viengsam Indavong, whose life changed when her son was diagnosed with the disorder. From the moment she realized her son was Autistic, Viengsam’s life changed, and she started a journey to ensure that children like her son got the chance of a good education.
Together with other parents facing the same challenge, her passion and motivation drove her to found the Lao Autism Association. The first of its kind in Laos, this Association is now helping scores of children to get an education. At the Association children learn and play and they are also helped to prepare for and attend mainstream schools. Viengsam says that she and the other parents used all their passion and love to set-up the Association, but they need more knowledge and skills to provide even better support for children with Autism in Laos. In pursuit of this knowledge, Veingsam completed at Masters in Disability Policy and Management at Flinders University with the help of an Australia Awards Scholarship. Today Viengsam leads a ground-breaking organisation in Laos that raises awareness, advocates for rights of people with autism and provides much needed services.
For Viengsam her experience of Autism is personal “I have a healthy and cheerful 15 year old son with autism. He came into my life to help me grow into a better and wiser person. Being his mother has paved the path to who I am today, made me realise the meaning of unconditional love, understanding and acceptance.
Viengsam explains that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental lifelong disorder with symptoms that appear in early childhood and cause the affected individual to face many challenges in life. Deficits in social interaction and communication skills, restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours limit the abilities of the person to function in day to day activities and can cause them to become dependent on others. It is these difficulties, related to the behaviour of concerns, that affect their participation in education, health care and community services which can cause them to become isolated.
Viengsam co-founded the Association for Autism because she wanted to support her son and other children who also suffered from Autism. “I felt that I can do something to change the situation. I couldn’t wait for it to happen.” Said Viengsam.
When asked can we do to include Autistic people in society and to help them to follow their dreams and lead a fulfilling life, Viengsam is quick to say “Accept them for who they are, don’t try to fix them, or change them to be like us. Give them the support they need to learn inclusively. Educate people around them and be patient with them.”
For Viengsam, the most enjoyable part of her job is seeing the smiles of people with autism and their families. Seeing them go to school, participate in activities and having fun. Being able to give a new hope to other parents that their child will be ok. Having a supportive and understanding community.
As for the future, Viengsam hopes to see her organization implement their strategic goals to 2030. “We hope to receive more support from the government and donor community to expanding our services to more people with autism in the country, create a vocational training centre and adult centre. We want to see the teacher training college have an inclusive education course available where teachers who graduate from that course know how to teacher students with special needs.