NEW teachers and NEW needs equal MORE teachers and MORE success

When I worked in business, I always talked about two kinds of problems we could have: bad problems and good problems. I know today we don’t talk about “problems” anymore; they are “challenges” or “opportunities”, but call them what you want, they’re still problem situations to be dealt with. A bad problem? Workers sit at their desks with nothing to do. A good problem? There’s so much new work that everyone stays late and has no time for breaks.

It seems we have a good problem.

We finished ABA Training for 19 new teachers and parents of autistic (ASD) children in February. The need is to increase the number and quality of teachers here in Kazakhstan so this is only a small start.   

Front: Yulia Ertz, ABA trainer, Israel; Paul Howe, COCA; Zhanat Akhmetova, Rostok Center Almaty

Standing: some of our students

We are trying to address two situations with autism in Kazakhstan. The first is increasing awareness of the disorder. Here, as in many of the post-Soviet countries, autism is not clearly defined as either medical or educational, making it difficult to diagnose, let alone to treat and also excluding parents from any government assistance. There is as well a severe social stigma attached to this, and in fact, any disability. This is why you won’t see any photographs of the children here. Parents would not give permission.

The second is to address the lack of trained specialists able to work with ASD children. The Ministry of Education in Kazakhstan introduced mainstreaming a few years ago using the term inclusive education. However, since there are few trained teachers, if any in some school districts, this simply is not happening. 

To help alleviate the situation, we recently finished a ten day ABA training session for Level 2 certification. We have been working with “Our Sunny World” an ABA center in Moscow ( ) and the trainers were Yulia Ertz from Israel and Natalia Malinova from Moscow ( ).

Beyond that all students who pass the exam must fulfill a minimum of 300 hours of practical work to proceed to the next level. This means that a specialist reaching Level 5 will have not only 275 hours of classroom work, but also 1500 hours of practical experience. This experience is what makes ABA specialists qualified to teach others in the field and the entire process usually takes two to three years. As of today there are no Level 5 ABA specialists in Kazakhstan. Our plan is to develop two to three specialists in Kazakhstan to be qualified to do trainings on their own; thus making it possible to train and supervise the new specialists.

Verbal Behavior, Introduction, Certificate Course in Applied Behavioral Analysis

So, what is the “problem”? 

As I said, it’s a good problem. The response to our first effort was amazing. For our next planned session we have not 20 but over 50 teachers and parents who want to participate. We worked with one center in Almaty in February but this response has been so great that we now will work with five centers: Almaty (Rostok Center), Astana (Tamshylar and Dauryn Centers), Our World Center in Korday, and the Petropavlovsk Home for Psychologically Disturbed Children.

Because of this growth we are running two concurrent sessions from May 1 to May 10 – one in Almaty, and the other in Astana. We can accommodate trainees from both the south of Kazakhstan and the north. We will help both private and public organizations. And most of all it gives us the opportunity to help more ASD children over a larger area of the country.

I hate to be blunt – how many times have you heard that and gotten good news? – but all of this costs money. School teachers here earn about 75,000 Kazakh Tenge per month. Last year that equaled around 500 dollars; not too bad. Today, because of devaluation, that 75,000 KZT is worth 214 dollars. That is simply not enough for them to afford trainings for the future. That is barely enough to survive on. In February we funded 15 teachers, the parents who were interested enough were able to pay themselves.

The cost for each trainee is 500 dollars which is more than two months’ salary for teachers. Each teacher we fund has the responsibility to “repay” that debt; not to us, but repayment “in kind”, meaning that must work in their field under supervision to use their knowledge and prepare them to advance to the next ABA level. This is 500 dollars well spent for the future of the children.

The limiting factors to this training are: 60 people maximum: 30 Almaty, 30 Astana, 

amount of money we can raise at 500 dollars per person.

With about 10 parents attending at each venue, this leaves us with 40 attendees at 500 dollars which comes to 20,000 USD. Supporting one teacher would mean helping five to six ASD children each year. Supporting these five to six children would mean helping the future. 

I told you I would be blunt. But thank you for your consideration. Donations can be made directly on the COCA website: