Professors bring autism expertise to Bolivia

Linda Watson and Betsy Crais are professors of speech and hearing sciences

Linda Watson (left) and Betsy Crais (right) are professors of speech and hearing sciences who have dedicated much of their careers to working with autism spectrum disorder.

Linda Watson and Betsy Crais are familiar with the extensive journey many Americans find themselves on when trying to acquire services for children with autism spectrum disorder.

As professors of speech and hearing sciences in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and part of UNC’s Program for Early Autism, Research, Leadership and Service (PEARLS), they have made autism screening, early detection and research the center of their academic lives.

This past summer, they took that experience abroad, traveling with a group to Bolivia, where autism services lag far behind what can be found in the United States.

There, they helped clear a path for the children and families who lack the robust, well-organized resources for help that are more common in America.

Partners of the Americas, an organization that links people in the United States with people in Latin American and Caribbean countries based on common interests, had identified a need for autism assistance in Bolivia. They contacted Patsy Pierce, a former UNC faculty member in speech and hearing sciences who had worked with the group concerning other childhood disabilities.

Pierce led them to Watson and Crais. At first the professors, who knew neither the language nor the culture of the country, weren’t confident their expertise would translate.

Unlike some medical outreach where vaccines, medicines, extra hands and equipment can make an immediate impact, breakthroughs in autism would have to come a different way.

Still, they agreed to help find that way. “We’re helpers. That’s just the profession we’re in,” Crais said.

Having an impact would mean bolstering the capacity to provide necessary services in Bolivia, Watson said. “We had to figure out what they needed first,” she said.

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Activities in Cochabamba and Tarija Areas, Bolivia
FTF (Farmer-to-Farmer) Beekeeping activities have a long history in our partnership.  Although we are no longer officially funded as a FTF program country, we have maintained our contacts.  The FTF Cochabamba Coordinator, Mauricio Ramirez remains very interested in beekeeping having been a beekeeper himself.  Also Julio Ledo, professor of beekeeping at the Agricultural School in Cochabamba has constantly worked with FTF volunteers.  In the entire history of FTF activities in Cochabamba, Julio is the only university agricultural worker to be interested in outreach activities to area farmers at the public institution.  We have not pursued outreach through some of the private universities since for the most part their emphasis is not in agriculture.  We also continually have worked with Greby Caillavy who works with a ngo in the Mizque area of the department.  His wife Norma is a very successful honey bee queen producer.  Nabor Mendizabal continues to be a main contact for educational activities in beekeeping and currently is employed with an ngo in Tarija.  Also Juan Carlos has been employed by a ngo.  Thanks to the efforts of Julio and FTF, all of the above now maintain strong ties to the beekeepers in the Bolivian high valley region.  Prior to FTF activities they were not beekeepers so FTF has helped them out individually and also helped out countless other beekeepers through their work.  Our primary traveler volunteer has been Don Hopkins.  Don has continued to work through the Flex FTF program as well as being hosted by an ngo in Tarija.  Don has included with him several co travelers including myself in 2011(I also am a beekeeper and do indeed give most of the credit to FTF since my first time in a bee suit was at a FTF workshop).

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