Featured Autism Specialist: Thelma Atha

Thelma Atha, M.Ed, CAS; Director of Counseling Department & Learning Support Specialist at Lincoln International Academy in Managua, Nicaragua; Private practice in Managua, Nicaragua focused on Sensory Integration Therapy, TEACCH, and Behavior Modification Therapy.

Country: Managua, Nicaragua

School/ Organizations/Center: Lincoln International Academy, Managua, Nicaragua

1) How has earning the Certified Autism Specialist been meaningful and satisfying?

I began learning about ASD 9 years ago when I suspected my youngest son may be autistic.  Six months later, in Californian, he was diagnosed with autism and I was told he might not ever become verbal.  A year and a half after Raphael’s diagnosis, my husband´s work in the U.S. Navy took us to El Salvador. While in El Salvador I began formal studies on autism, SP, and ABA in order to better help my son.  Shortly after, I began to get invited to schools to talk about ASD and families began contacting me.    Suddenly, I found myself becoming an advocate for children with ASD. After much hard work, I am happy to report that, today, my son is verbal and high functioning. We face challenges every single day, but I am blessed to have had the opportunity to become a Certified Autism Specialist and to learn different ways to help my son and other children with ASD and their families.  In 2013, we moved to Managua, Nicaragua and in 2015 I earned my designation as a CAS. It has been truly meaningful to me as I can now better help children with ASD. Living in a third world country, where people are just beginning to learn about ASD, means a lack of sufficient resources.  There are very few service providers for children with ASD, so my experience and the training I received while becoming a CAS is very important as we work to fill the gaps in services and assistance for people with ASD in this region of the world.

2) How has the CAS credential affected your professional growth?

The CAS credential has very positively impacted my professional growth! Having these credentials enhances the credibility of all my efforts to advocate for people with ASD and improves the services I provide for students, clients and parents. Also, being a parent of a child with ASD, gives me additional sensitivity and awareness on a professional and personal level which helps build better cooperation with those I work with.   This certification has made me grow in many other ways. My work as Director of Counseling and Learning Support Specialist for Lincoln International Academy and the work I do to support students from other schools, provide private therapies, and help support people and families with ASD has benefited greatly from all I learned while earning my CAS designation.

In 2015, I had the opportunity to give a TEDx talk on Autism, highlighting my personal experiences as a mother and my professional experiences as an advocate for people with ASD. One of the things I mentioned in my TEDx was my CAS designation. My TEDx talk has spread beyond borders. Since then, families and organizations from many countries have contacted me. I truly believe that CAS has given me much more credibility as a professional which in turn makes my work as an advocate for people with ASD much more effective. (TEDx link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IZs3wN4x_0)

3) How has your CAS credential been a benefit to your employer?

It has been a huge benefit for my employer. We have started a well-structured inclusion program to place students with ASD in the regular classroom to the maximum extent possible and continue to work to increase our capabilities to serve the members of our community with ASD.  Parents of children with ASD now seek admissions at Lincoln International Academy because they are confident they will be in a place where there is someone that truly understands their children’s needs.

4) How do you like to be recognized, acknowledged and rewarded for a job well done?

I know first hand how difficult it can be to get support, access to therapies, and better educational opportunities for children with ASD, so assisting parents and their children is all the reward I need.  Hearing: “I know you understand,” “thank you for giving our child a chance”, etc., is acknowledgement enough.

5) What is your greatest challenge or roadblock?

I find the biggest challenge is to work with people who do not understand ASD.  That was the main motivation I had in giving my TEDx talk, educating as many people as possible about the challenges faced by individuals with ASD and their families.

6) What makes you feel like a valuable contributor?

The fact that I am not only a professional on the field but also a mother of a child with ASD who now has the amazing opportunity to work with other children with ASD is what makes me a valuable contributor.

7) What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy many aspects about my job. Most of al,l I enjoy working with parents and their children, providing the emotional support that they need to be able to stay strong and positive every day while facing the challenges associated with ASD.

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