COCA Spotlight: Zhanat Akhmetova

My name is Zhanat Akhmetova and I am director of ABA center “Rostok” in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Many people are surprised about my age and the reason I came into the ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy program.

In 2008 I opened a center for kids’ speech development and preschool preparation courses taught both in Russian and Kazakh languages and also began English, Kazakh and math lessons for high school students and a fine art studio.

After a length of time the “Rostok” center expanded and children were brought from different districts of Almaty. Kids who attended our lessons took first and grand prize places at City competitions and Republican Olympiads, participated in creative contests, and years later successfully graduated from high schools

How I came to this therapy.

In 2012 a boy came to me. I was a child psychologist at that time and it was his first visit. If you don’t know the diagnosis, you might think that he only has bad manners: he wasn’t greeting anybody, didn’t answer to his name, touched everything in the room, scattered toys and did not put them in place; and if he didn’t get what he wanted he started crying, lying on the floor, yelling and beating his head against walls. The boy’s diagnosis was autism. I didn’t know how I could help him. Then I did some research on the Internet and I found a lot of information about autism: articles, reports, methods of treatment, and reviews of different specialists. The first thing that I found was a holding therapy and a playing therapy, but they didn’t give me answers how I could help this boy. I also found programs that included negative physical and emotional reinforcements as correctional means to alter the behavior of that group of children.   I found methods about the learning of kids with autism at early stages which showed positive results after treatment courses.

From all of methods, I chose ABA therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) and started learning it. My mentor is Yulia Erz, a Member of the Israeli Association of certified behavior analysts (IACBA) and an affiliate member of International Applied Behavior Analysis (ABAI). In her lectures she teaches ethical ways of communication with children, how to work and educate them, and how to behave with children with early infantile autism.

The ABA program accepts children the way they are for today and now, no matter whether they behave properly in public or not. Even if they shake their hands and head nonstop without trying to make eye contact with other people, ABA does not punish bad behavior. Specialists watch after them, they evaluate them, and after that they make individual plans of education and learning. ABA specialists try to build good communication skills between children and the world. They do not force children to talk, they teach them how to talk. Therapists do the educational process through different games or PECS cards.

For me it was a discovery!

I immediately plunged into learning and practice! I worked very hard to get as much experience and knowledge as I possibly could. Surprisingly, it was not difficult at all. It was interesting to me to the smallest details. I re-read the book many times, not because I couldn’t understand the meaning, but every time I read chapter after chapter I was looking for answers…

I started working and it gave me positive results. Over time, more and more parents from different cities of Kazakhstan began to turn to me for help. Then I realized that this disorder is not known in Kazakhstan, there is no such awareness about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Therefore, to help parents and professionals of all centers in 2013 I organized the first seminar “What is ABA?”, “Basic principles of Applied Behavior Analysis” with a guest lecturer from Israel, Ms. Yulia Erz.

50 people from the Republican Institute of advanced training and 20 parents and experts from correctional educational centers attended this master class. After that we held two seminars on “Alternative ways of communication of children with autism” and “Correction of undesirable behavior”, as well as face to face BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) courses for professional specialists. We chose these courses because BCBA is the highest level of training of professional training in Applied Behavior Analysis program.

Today I continue to work and learn! In the center 15 children are studying with speech therapists, speech pathologists, psychologists, and art therapists. All teachers are taught in-class or in online study mode by Yulia Erz.