Autism and Special Needs in Africa – Little Assisi School

By Adam Hardin

Little Girl at Assisi School

On a dusty mid-July day, three plumbers who have placed a water valve in the wrong location are dealing with one very determined nun. Sister Helen Scully is the director of the Little Assisi, a school for children with special needs, in N’gombe compound in Lusaka Zambia.

Today, for the first time, Assisi has running water, but the plumbers have mistaken placed the valve directly in the front yard where the children play. They are reluctant to move it, and for that they are being sternly re-directed.

The Assisi school serves 26 children who exhibit characteristics of mental retardation, autism, and various other disorders that impede their learning in more traditional educational settings. Sister Helen and her staff spend their days feeding and educating these children who would otherwise have no place else to go.

Sister Helen at the School
Sister Helen Scully outside Little Assisi School.

I visited Little Assisi in July 2007 along with Kathy Allen, a school psychologist, and Phoebe Goodwin, a teacher. Sister Helen introduced us to the children and her assistants. We discussed possible diagnoses of some of the children, and asked them about the resources and training they need.

Sister Helen and her staff often rely on their wits and energy to take the place of the supplies and resources that should be available to these children. Rocks and old tires are used for exercise while homemade flash cards are used to teach numbers and letters. In addition, while the Assisi staff is energetic and eager to learn, they haven’t received any formalized training.

Assisi Kids
Three students at the school.

During the past year, KCF has begun to provide financial support and gifts to Little Assisi through the Holiday angel project and is currently working on plans to provide teacher training in the summer of 2009. Specialists in Autism and Mental Retardation can provide specialized training on structured teaching, the use of visuals, and other techniques. By providing educational training and funding to the staff of the school, Sister Helen and the teachers will be able to provide the children with training and the prospect for a better future.

By the way, the water valve was moved, the children played, and the educational works and dreams of Sister Helen and her staff continue to flow.

~ Article author Adam Hardin is a behavior specialist in Kentucky working with children and adults with Mental Retardation.

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