New behavior therapy center for children prioritizes cultural awareness

From colleagues to friends to business partners. That’s the shortened version of the relationship between Camille Harris and Jasmine Smith. The two met at work, became friends and during their conversations discovered they had a passion for helping children with autism, but particularly Black children. The two Black women saw the deficiencies at the center where they worked, specifically, as it related to cultural awareness, and they wanted to change that.

So they did.

Representation matters. It’s my oft-repeated refrain, and for good reason. I keep learning it matters in ways both big and small. In ways I never knew. As someone who isn’t an expert on autism, it never occurred to me that an African American child with autism may respond better to a therapist who looks like him or her. But that one variable, could have a significant impact on the child, Harris said.

Besides representation, though, they noticed the lessons they learned about cultural awareness and competence weren’t used in real life, Smith said, and was another possible hindrance to a child’s progress. Instead, Smith says she often did double duty, helping the children she served while explaining the reasons why she did things a certain way to colleagues. Cultural competence was often thought of as clothing or language, but it extends far beyond that, Smith said.

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