New program aims to improve access to support for children with autism in Kenya

The course will be available to University students this fall

An overhead view of a child sitting on the floor reading a book.

The Kalel Program aims to provide more resources and support for children with disabilities.

New program aims to improve access to support for children with autism in Kenya

The course will be available to University students this fall

The Kalel Program aims to provide more resources and support for children with disabilities.

An overhead view of a child sitting on the floor reading a book.

The Kalel Program aims to provide more resources and support for children with disabilities.

In Kenya, there are two Registered Behavior Technicians certified to support autistic children. The lack of support can be extremely difficult for the children and their families. Debra Ntimama, whose son Kalel has autism, was desperate to find support. She even paid to host international therapists in Kenya. She finally decided to take matters into her own hands, initiated the Kalel Program, named for her son.

Laura Barcelos, who has her doctorate in Behavioral Analysis, is the associate director of the Satellite Programs in Behavior Analysis in the psychology department.

“The purpose of the program is to prepare direct care staff to work with kids on the autism spectrum. They can also work with kids with other disabilities, but the primary focus is kids with autism,” Barcelos said.

The program provides training to prepare students for an assessment to be Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), which means they will be certified in providing behavior-analytic services. The training will be at least 40 hours to meet requirements from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, with an online and in-person component. Students will complete online modules, then go on to get hands-on experience with children in the in-person portion of the program. Barcelos will supervise the in-person services. Students will take a competency test, and then be able to sit for the RBT exam. There are 28 students in the first cohort.

The program is a partnership between the United States International University- Africa and the University of Nevada, Reno. Those that complete the program will be able to assist autistic children and children with other disabilities in Kenya, both in Nairobi and throughout Kenya.

“The challenges that autistic children face aren’t well understood, so there is a lot of ostracization. There’s a huge need for understanding and advocacy in Kenya,” Barcelos said.

The module-based program will also be available for University of Nevada, Reno students starting this fall. The Spectrum Learning Center, directed by assistant professor of psychology Bethany Contreras, will serve as the in-person learning environment for students at the University. The program is currently only open to University students. Contreras, who has a doctorate in Applied Behavior Analysis hopes to eventually expand the program to take in more students from the community to meet the extremely high demand for RBTs in the area.

Once students have gone through the program at the University and passed their exam for the RBT certification, Contreras hopes they will either stay on at the Spectrum Learning Center or work in the community.

“That will bolster the RBT workforce here in Reno,” Contreras said.

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