It’s common knowledge that early identification of autism spectrum disorder is critical in ensuring that children access the right therapy services. But what’s the solution for regions, like Sub-Saharan Africa, that not only lack the resources and skills to detect autism in children early on but also to provide teachers and parents with the essential teaching and training tools they need?
This is where Craft Education, a social enterprise that promotes inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for children with autism and social communication delays via mobile technology is working to give 3 million African children with autism or related disorders a better quality of life.
In countries like Kenya, Ghana and Mozambique there’s a very real sense of lack when it comes to accessing resources and technology in schools -- whether it’s due to overcrowded classes, a shortage of basic equipment, crippling data costs, overworked teachers or regular political upheaval.
For non-disabled learners, these challenges are simply disruptions, and they are often lucky enough to find workable solutions around the issues.
But what about the almost 10-million African children that haven’t been diagnosed with autism, that struggle on a day-to-day basis?
The most common obstacles for these children and their parents include:
Not having sufficient resources for the vast majority of parents to get the children the assistance they need
Those with autism are 10% less likely to attend school.
It can take up to six years for an autistic child to be diagnosed.
For the parent, this ongoing treatment is costly and unsustainable
But Why WhatsApp?
With the hundreds of app technologies and platforms available, why would clinical experts and education specialists identify WhatsApp as a solution?
The answer, quite simply, is that more African families have access to this app than any other technology easily available in Europe and the UK.
In fact, 95% of the parents surveyed in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Mozambique use WhatsApp to get some level of support for their autistic children. What they don't have access to, however, is the expertise, time, money, or logistical resources to get their children the urgent help they need.
This insight made it clear where the pilot program’s focus needed to go.
Other reasons for choosing this form of communication include:
It's incredibly easy to use with a friendly user-face
Parents can access support in real-time
There are few learning curves for parents and children
WhatsApp can also train children and parents to use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in a safe environment using their mobile phones
Hunu Therapy At The Touch Of a Button
After some thought and collaboration with Turn, Craft Education wasn't asking why they should use WhatsApp as a tool; instead, they were wondering why they hadn't thought of this as a solution before.
Human/Family centered approach
With the help of Hunu therapy, the simple messaging system collects information from parents to determine whether their children have a low-, medium- or high risk of autism.
Instructional videos are then delivered via the platform to both teachers and parents, which gives them the tools to help them do Hunu therapy at home and at school. Additional support via the app includes dedicated phone calls and on-demand conversations with behavior therapists.
On demand conversations with behavior therapists
Armed with this knowledge, and a competitively low-tech gadget, support workers, education and clinical specialists can provide the necessary support for parents to provide their autistic children with the correct support to develop interpersonal, social and academic skills in a world that can often be unkind.
How Is The Roll-Out Phase Going?
Given the magnitude of the various problems Africa faces, this program is gaining momentum incredibly fast. In August 2021, the pilot phase rolled out, identifying 114 parents to use the program.
Amidst all the chaos, including the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, disruptions in school and to families, and record numbers of unemployment, poverty and crime, parents, teachers and learners have experienced significant changes in less than 3 months.
Soon, more than 450 000 users will have access to Hunu therapy via WhatsApp.
Feedback from teachers and parents has been extremely positive. Not only are diagnoses being made quicker, and more accurately, providing young learners with the support they need.
But parents are also spending more time with their kids, empowering themselves through real-time conversations, instructional videos and access to program leaders.