For Renee Duhaime, working in Abu Dhabi gave her a different perspective on teaching. As a level two Intensive Instruction Program teacher at The New England Center for Children (NECC)®, she spent a year working overseas in Abu Dhabi with children with autism at the school’s day services program. “I met teachers who were from other countries and taught in different ways or learned differently,” she says. “I really liked the collaborative effort.”
NECC is a non-profit education and research centre for children living with autism from ages two to 22, with the goal of improving the lives of children through education, research, and technology. Offering both in-home and in-school day programs, as well as residential services for children with 24-hour needs, NECC has since taken its day services curriculum beyond the US borders. Based in the town of Southborough, Massachusetts (west of Boston), NECC expanded its program to Abu Dhabi in 2007.
“We work in both English and Arabic curriculum there,” says Katherine Burke, also a level two Intensive Instruction Program teacher, and psychology undergrad and master’s graduate. The centre-based program provides instruction from Sunday to Thursday all year round based on the Applied Behaviour Analysis, with the intention of helping children with autism strive in classroom settings. “We focus on all the main subjects, including science, math, as well as the core skills that NECC has found to be essential for learning and life.”And, in addition, students also work on group skills where they have the opportunity to learn both languages.
Although the material covered in Abu Dhabi’s day program is replicated from NECC in Southborough, learning the culture was an adjustment Renee had to make during her year spent overseas in addition to the sometimes challenging behaviours of her students. “It’s really about seeing that the students are the most important thing, and about learning how to work with them to benefit them so they can learn,” she adds.
With an academic background in human services and rehabilitation, and a master’s student in severe special needs, Renee explains that during her three-and-a-half years with NECC, the most rewarding part of her job was watching her students excel. And she continues to be inspired by the young students she works with—both in the US and during her time in Abu Dhabi—saying that children with autism have an amazing spark.
“It’s so exciting when a child makes eye contact with you for the first time,” adds Katherine. “Or it’s seeing how well they’re doing and they’re striving with the services that we’ve done.”