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Handicap mission training in VIENTIANE and PAKSÉ


Let's not be afraid of words. The first week of training in Vientiane went perfectly.

Monday, welcome and visit of the centre. First contacts with the teachers and the children. In the afternoon, the actual work began: case studies and situations presented by the teachers. Each time, a group of children was involved. Up to and including Thursday, we worked in this way. We tried to show the interest of an adapted communication in a simplified, structured and predictable environment.

Let's be honest, Wednesdays provide a little break and rest. Well, almost. After a visit to a primary school which includes children from the centre, and a diversion to the sports club, we turned into tourists... visit of the Buddha Park, Pha That Luang...

Friday was a day of apotheosis: In a conference centre reserved for us, we led a workshop for professionals and parents (forty people) on the basics of support for autistic children and adolescents with a view to maximise their autonomy. The programme indicated that the workshop would end at 3.30 pm. We left at 5.30 pm...

Needless to say, we were welcomed like princes throughout the week. It also goes without saying that nothing would have been possible without the active and enlightened participation of Manivanh who, once again, was much more than an interpreter. Now, a (well-deserved) rest, tomorrow, trip to Paksé. And Monday it all starts again.


The first week of autism training in Vientiane went perfectly. The second week in Pakse was magical.

To begin with, from Monday to Wednesday, Antoine Perdu accompanied us and we did not miss his expertise in the field of deafness. The week started with a big surprise: we were welcomed by Léa Khamtay, the director, plus two members of the board and Mr Boum Nang, the director of the "project". Presentation of the centre, the children, the staff... so far, nothing unusual.

Then there was talk of this mysterious project. Some of you may remember my intention in 2015, when I started these trainings, to do in schools, paediatric services... a kind of screening and identification of children suffering from a disability or a cognitive disorder. The aim was to help set up a specific support system for these children. Faced with the scale of the task, I quickly gave up. When I told Annabel about the centres for autistic children in Laos and what I was doing there, she immediately thought that we had to broaden our scope and address the entire children in need sector.

And that's when we learned that a project is underway in the Pakse area. It concerns ten villages, and therefore ten schools. In each of these villages, an educator comes to assist the teacher to ensure the inclusion in the school of children who have been identified beforehand by these same educators who have received specific training for the accompaniment of disabled children. They have just started and are now in charge of fifteen children. In short, in Pakse they have read our minds and realised what we have not been able to do.

In the following days, we met with the three teams of educators to discuss the difficulties they were encountering. We also received parents who wished to do so. Each time, our aim was to strengthen the parent-professional alliance in educational attitudes so that the child would find the same rules and practices at home and at the centre. We were also able to measure that, even more than at home, these families, who can only rely on themselves, live in unimaginable distress. And on Friday afternoon, back to the "project" with an express awareness of the TEACCH (1) method for the ten educators. The week ended with a convivial meal with the whole team. And always and at every moment, the irreplaceable Manivanh whom we can never thank enough. Added to the report of the first week, here is a report of the fortnight of training-autism. But we are not quite finished yet. You will soon be able to read about the "lessons of the training", and to finish, the draft of some tracks that we will try to clear. But will we ever be finished?

Lessons of the training

During this fortnight, there were many instructive meetings. We devoted a large part of our time to interviews with educators and parents devoted to the exclusive clinical exploration of a particular case. This is a given now. It is not possible to approach autism in a collective, group mode. Only the individual approach is valid, with attitudes and tools adapted to each person. There were also several highlights. In Vientiane, it was the Friday workshop that brought together professionals and parents for the whole day. We described the basics and the fundamental processes of the TEACCH method which, for us, is an essential and easy-to-use tool. Instead of long speeches, we showed how to do it in real life situations. Jacques was the autistic child, and Annabel played the role of the educator. This gave Jacques the opportunity to discover his acting skills. This lively presentation certainly provoked many interventions and questions from our audience (forty people). The room was reserved until 3.30 pm. At 5.30 pm we were still there. In Paksé, after this first experience, we used role-playing to illustrate our proposals.

And on Friday afternoon, with the ten educators, as time was short, we presented the basics of the TEACCH educational intervention in this express form. In the future, we will practice in the same way. Finally, as with autism, it is much better to show than to explain. In addition, visual information breaks down the language barrier to a large extent. That said, we are not about to do without Manivanh's guidance.

We came back satisfied from the two weeks of training in Laos. We have the impression that we did a good job. This is surely our mistake. It is true that we explained things well, that we were translated perfectly, that we were well understood...

But the relationship with an autistic person is so out of the ordinary, so foreign to our habits, that it requires constant concentration and, if possible, permanent training. In fact, giving priority to visual information and banishing verbal exchange is, for us neurotypicals, completely unnatural. This is even more true in Laos where the oral tradition is predominant, to the detriment of the written word.

We can therefore fear that the effects of this training will not last very long. As with the virus, we will have to imagine booster shots. It is impossible to return to Laos every two or three months. We will therefore have to use the services of the internet. But here too, there are many obstacles: first of all, the language, the time difference, the digital gap because in Laos, not everyone has access to Internet... we also have to take into account the availability of each person and at the same time maintain a good frequency of exchanges (six or seven weeks, which would allow us to fit in with the school holidays). We are thinking of a "Balint group" formula (2) which would involve the active participation of Manivanh.

In addition to this "luxury" option, we can also imagine exchanges by e-mail with the help of Google Translate. This will be more laborious, less efficient, but easier to implement. If anyone has any ideas, we'd love to hear them. Finally, there is also the possibility of increasing the number of training sessions by expanding our panel of speakers. This implies building a close-knit team that works on the same basis and communicates intensely.

This is not easy. Let's stop here, temporarily.

Annabel and Jacques

Translated by Maïwenn Swanson

(1) 1 The TEACCH method gives children with an autism spectrum disorder the opportunity to learn in a structured educational setting. It aims to develop each child's independence through structuring and understanding

(2) It is a meeting of a group of caregivers supervised by a psychoanalytically trained leader with the aim of improving the caregiver-caregiver relationship by exploring the unconscious dimension of this relationship.

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