"In India, people don't show their kids if they have a disorder. It's like a taboo, they keep them inside to avoid social ridicule or isolation," Jasmine said. "I thought 'I need to do something in this field so I can go back and bring a change.'"

Bringing Autism Awareness to India

Tue Apr 16, 2013

There isn't a whole lot of elbow room inside a plane traveling on an international flight. There is, however, an abundance of free time.

As a flight attendant with a master's degree in psychology and a curious mind, Jasmine Saini '13 used that free time to talk with passengers aboard her long flights. Jasmine quickly became drawn to an unfamiliar topic from American passengers-family members dealing with children with autism.

Jasmine, whose undergraduate degree was also in psychology, knew very little about autism. The subject is fairly new and mostly misunderstood in India.

"In India, people don't show their kids if they have a disorder. It's like a taboo, they keep them inside to avoid social ridicule or isolation," Jasmine said. "I thought 'I need to do something in this field so I can go back and bring a change.'"

Through research, Jasmine realized the best approach to bring that change was to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). However, she could only find a handful of BCBA-approved course sequences in all of India. When she looked at colleges in the United States, that number jumped into the hundreds.

As a flight attendant on many international trips, Jasmine was already familiar with the northeastern United States and began looking at colleges in the area. She applied to three schools, but it was during the application process at Elms College-when she met Katherine James, Ph.D., director of the autism spectrum disorders program, and Joyce Hampton, Ed.D., associate academic dean for student success-that she made her decision. As an international student, Dr. James and Dr. Hampton went to great lengths to help Jasmine with her visa application process and assimilating her to the United States educational system.

Jasmine has been completing her practicum hours at Amherst Regional High School, working in the Developmental Studies Program with students diagnosed with autism and other developmental disabilities.

When she graduates, Jasmine will take her BCBA certification exam. She plans to work in the United States for several years before returning to India to open her own school for children with learning disorders and developmental disabilities.

"Exposure is important because people don't know what autism is in India. Even those with master's degrees in psychology, like me," she said.

With the knowledge and training, Jasmine will be able to return to India and bring the change she knows she is capable of making.

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