April is the month for autism awareness and acceptance. In Georgia, life is not easy for people with autism spectrum disorder especially due to low awareness of this disorder. However, situation has improved in past years also thanks to the efforts of Caritas Czech Republic. We have been training doctors and behaviour therapists, opened kindergarten groups for children with autism and introduced national autism service standards.
In total, Caritas trained 504 doctors so far in the early identification of autism and 173 behaviour therapists took part in professional trainings, aimed at working with people with autism spectrum disorder. Caritas Czech Republic also opened 3 kindergarten groups for children with autism spectrum disorder in Tbilisi, Telavi and Zugdidi. Moreover, Caritas contributed remarkably to the development of national autism service standards.
We spoke with Rusudan Chkhubianishvili, project manager in Caritas Czech Republic in Georgia, who will tell us more about the situation for people with autism in the country and about Caritas‘ work in this area.
What is the situation today for people with autism spectrum disorder in Georgia?
In Georgia, the number of persons suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is increasing. It is estimated that worldwide one in 160 children has autism, which begins in childhood and persist into adolescence and adulthood. Based on the credible international studies we can assume that statistical data for Georgia are similar to those for other countries.
However, the resources of our country are very scarce and do not meet the existing demand. Because of the low awareness of population on autism, those suffering with autism spectrum disorder often receive services late which reduces the potential of positive outcomes and does not support successful social inclusion of people suffering from autism spectrum disorder.
Is there a sign of improvement?
Over the last 10 years, there has been a significant development of services for children with autism in Georgia. These focus primarily on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), a method that has great results in children. Thanks to ABA methods and techniques, children successfully learn new skills in the areas of speech and communication, games, social and self-service activities.
However, adults with autism also need support. In Georgia, autism services are fragmented and do not involve lifelong, person-centered care for adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder.
Improvement of services for people with autism spectrum disorder is one of the pillars of Caritas Czech Republic’s work in Georgia. What has Caritas achieved so far in this area?
During the last five years, Caritas Czech Republic, with the financial support of Czech Development Agency, contributed significantly to the autism service development, which was requested by the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labour, Health and Social affairs of Georgia.
Caritas’ contribution was remarkable in the development of National Autism service standards and State protocol of identification, diagnosis and management of autism spectrum disorder. The considerable progress has been made in early identification and diagnosis of autism among children in majority of regions of Georgia: Kakheti, Imereti, Samegrelo, Adjara, Guria, Samtskhe-Javakheti and Racha-Lechkhumi-Kvemo Svaneti.
Moreover, thanks to Caritas’ advocacy efforts, municipal programs for children with autism have been provided by Rustavi, Ozurgeti and Akhaltsikhe municipalities.
You have mentioned the Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) based autism services. Can you tell us more about Caritas’ work in this field?
Yes, actually Caritas’ achievements in improving the quality of Applied Behaviour Analysis are one of the most exceptional ones. We’ve developed a certified training program in ABA and trained therapists who can now supervise over children with autism.
ABA services were introduced in two regions of Georgia – Samtskhe-Javakheti and Guria, per request of the government of Georgia. In 2021, it is expected to add one more region to this list – Racha-Lechkhumi.
Caritas also helped to improve the early identification of autism spectrum disorders in Georgia, which is crucial when it comes to this disease. How did the help look like?
Caritas introduced the ADOS-2 tool in Georgia, which is a gold standard diagnostic tool used to help assess autism spectrum disorder. Previously, this diagnostic assessment of autism was only available in Tbilisi. Thanks to Caritas, it’s now available in 5 regions of Georgia. We’ve trained local specialists in the regions Achara, Imereti, Samegrelo and Kakheti. Lately, Samtskhe-Javakheti has become the fifth region where Caritas introduced this assessment tool.
What would you say has been the biggest success of Caritas in improving the services for people with autism spectrum disorder in Georgia?
I believe it was Caritas’ work on the policy level. As I mentioned, Caritas developed National Autism service standards and State protocol of identification, diagnosis and management of autism spectrum disorder, together with the Georgian Ministry of Health. As a result, the services for children with autism spectrum disorder have expanded and, above all, improved. At the same time, it is possible to detect and diagnose the disorder earlier and offer specialized care to children in time.
We’ve also conducted a study on the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in Georgia which brought some much-needed data that we can use to further improve the services for people with autism.
The project 'Improvement and expansion of services for individuals with autism spectrum disorder in Georgia' is funded by Czech Development Agency. The project was designed in close cooperation with MoILHSA (Ministry for Internally Displaced Persons from Occupied Areas, Labor, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia) and Child Development Institute of Ilia State University and is based on the result of the previous project by Caritas 'Development of services for children with autism spectrum disorders in Georgia'.