Made by ComCon alumni: Brest region teachers trained to support children with autism

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Monday, August 30, 2021
Elena Kozorez during her visit to the United States within the Community Connections program in 2018
Photo provided by Elena Kozorez

“Teachers don’t often have the knowledge and professional skills to work with children with disabilities, and our goal is to build a culture of inclusion among future teachers, so that they "accept" children with disabilities."

According to the statistics of 2019, 800 families raise children with autism in the Brest region, located in the southwest of Belarus. Several years ago, not all autistic kids had an opportunity to receive an education at school and preschool. Many of them could not attend educational institutions due to the lack of tutors who would support them in the classroom. In Belarus, the law entitles autistic children to have an assistant (tutor) at school, but there were no training programs nor methodological support for tutors. 

Elena Kozorez, Deputy Director of the Brest Regional Center of Special Education and Rehabilitation, was well aware of this gap and sought a solution. In 2018, Elena took part in the USAID Community Connections visitor exchange program and went to Des Moines, Iowa. This experience helped her to lead the development of inclusive education in her region.

"Inclusive education can succeed only with an environment that facilitates inclusion of all students, regardless of their needs and abilities, in one education system. It can be effective when teachers have the appropriate skills and are committed to work in the new environment,” Elena believes. “Our center is a methodological platform for training teachers, as well as interns and students from Brest State University. Teachers don’t often have the knowledge and professional skills to work with children with disabilities, and our goal is to build a culture of inclusion among future teachers, so that they "accept" children with disabilities."

In her exploration of American practices, Elena was impressed by the comfortable conditions for educating and socializing children and adults with autism that were created in the schools and centers she visited. "I was particularly impressed when visiting The Homestead, Gigi's Playhouse, and Courage League Sports. These organizations have a unique experience of creating an environment for using modern technologies and strategies to work with children with autistic spectrum disorder. But most importantly, I was able to observe tutors doing their work,”  recalls Elena. “No doubt, tutors have a lot to contribute to the educational process. Therefore, they must constantly improve their professional skills, and that needs an effective support system in place. And that was the moment when I realized creating something similar for the professionals of the Brest region would be a good idea." 

After the trip, in 2019, Elena, in collaboration with the Kobrin branch of Belarusian Association of Assistance to Children and Young People with Disabilities (BelAPDIiMI), and a local Kobrin Center for Special Education and Rehabilitation, developed a training program and received funding from the U.S. Embassy Small Grants Program to create a Tutor School to train educators to work with children with autistic spectrum disorder in inclusive and integrated groups and classes.

The first training course enrolled 30 tutors who support children with autism in schools and preschools across 13 districts in the Brest region. As a result, 25 children were able to attend schools and preschools with the support of experienced tutors. The graduates of the first cohort were trained as trainers for other tutors.

The project also created an interactive online experience exchange platform for the staff of the Center of Special Education and Rehabilitation, BelAPDIiMI, and tutors who want to improve their skills. Consultations for families having children with autism are also provided on the platform.

Elena and her colleagues hold intervisory (peer-to-peer) and supervisory meetings to discuss and find solutions for specific situations. To date, Elena and her colleagues have managed to build a consistent system to train tutors and communicate with the administration of educational institutions attended by children with autistic spectrum disorders. Elena notes that education specialists also increased their support to parents who need help.

The development of inclusive education for people with special needs is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Belarus ratified in 2016. The Government committed itself to providing inclusive education at all levels under the approved Action Plan for implementing the Concept of Inclusive Education for People with Disabilities for 2016-2020.

Since the start of the USAID Community Connections visitor program in 2006, 715 Belarusian professionals explored American best practices and experienced American culture in various U.S. communities. Every year, the program provides an opportunity for 60 Belarusian professionals to develop leadership and entrepreneurship skills and to contribute to the social and economic development of Belarus.

Last updated: August 08, 2022

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