**Blog post by BACA Behavior Technician Morgan Gardner
I started to write this blog post about a month ago. I’m just now getting to it, not because my life is so busy, but because it has taken that long for my experiences to sink in enough for me to be able to adequately share them with others.
Back in the winter, I came across an opportunity with my church to do a missions trip in Managua, Nicaragua that focused primarily on children with special needs. It immediately struck me because I have a passion for traveling and working with children with special needs. I started meeting with team leaders and other group members, and it immediately became clear to me that I was needed to work on the behavioral aspect while we were down there. We had speech pathologists, occupational therapists, pediatric nurses and teachers, but there wasn’t really anyone who knew Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) or any kind of behavior management. I was all in.
From my conversations with team members in the past, I had gathered that ABA therapy was something the school psychologist in Nicaragua, Carlos, was highly interested in learning about and eventually implementing in his two schools. These people had explained to me that last year Carlos and his team really needed a lot of direction in behavior management, but no one was able to adequately answer his questions. I was beyond excited to meet Carlos and talk for what I hoped would be hours about behavior.
From my understanding, in the city of Managua, there are only two schools that service children with special needs. These children who attend the schools either pay out of pocket (highly unlikely) or are sponsored by people here in the U.S. The sponsors also pay for medical needs, school uniforms, food, etc. My team worked in both of these schools for a total of five days.
The first day, I met Carlos and, like I had hoped, we spent over an hour discussing behavior management, positive reinforcement, verbal operants and specific cases he dealt with (all while using a translator to communicate). It was amazing to see someone so involved in each of his student’s lives. He makes sure his students are fully taken care of with sponsors, medical care and emotional support. What I found so encouraging was he insisted on never being complacent with their current behavior therapy practices.
Last year at this time, if a child had engaged in a maladaptive behavior, they were automatically sent home for the day and maybe allowed to return to school the next day. It showed the child all he/she had to do was to engage in a behavior, and then they got to go home for the day (fun!). Since then, Carlos and his team have collectively decided to work through the behavior and keep the child at school. This is great! When I arrived, the plan was, and still is, every child who engages in a behavior is told to sit in a red chair in the corner and wait calmly. This is their go-to plan, and they use it for all of the children no matter which behavior he/she engages in. Carlos and I spoke extensively about creating behavior plans specifically for each of his students who required one. I made sure he knew that I was in no way an expert, I was just using my experiences to help better serve the children in Nicaragua.
Even though Carlos and his team continue to make changes to their behavior management strategies, they still have a long way to go. I encouraged him to use what works best for his students because what we use here in the U.S. may not be best for the children of Nicaragua. I can honestly say that I returned to BACA rejuvenated and excited to be working with my clients. Sometimes, we take for granted what we have here in the States and/or at BACA. But going down to Nicaragua and being in the schools really opened my eyes to how fortunate we are to know the things we do and have the ability to constantly learn.
I took away two main things from my trip:
- We (teachers in Nicaragua and BACA therapists) really aren’t all that different from each other. We are all trying to learn what works best for our kiddos and trying to implement that to the best of our ability.
- Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge with others … someone somewhere down the line may benefit from it.