“Isn’t God amazing?”

“This is the first thought I had when we concluded the recent conference on autism in Zhytomyr,” Viktoriia Brzhezytska, Director of the Life Skills Center, said. “I was so pleased with the help we were able to offer hurting parents with autistic children.”

Zhanna Zarichna, mother of a 15-year-old son with Autism Spectrum Disorder, said, “When the doctor first told me that my child had autism and that I should give him away to an orphanage for disabled kids, I thought my life had stopped. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, or who could help me.”

“The diagnosis sounded like a death sentence.”

In September, for the third year in a row, Linda Schmidt, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Oregon Health and Science University in Oregon, brought a group of professionals from the United States to the Ukrainian people with mental health issues – including autism.

“I have been waiting for this for 15 years,” said Zhanna. “During the three day seminar, I was in a group with other mothers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and teachers. We were together to share, learn, and understand kids with autism. My dream had come true.”

Seminars focusing on autism in kids were held in three different locations.

“Two hundred people participated in the workshop in Zhytomyr alone,” shared Viktoriia. “In fact, people came from all over Ukraine to take part.”

“After the seminar for speech therapists, a participant came to me and said she had been to many seminars in Ukraine but had never experienced such high quality training.”

Another participant who came from a nearby small town, brought a donation of 200 UAH [Approximately $7] and said, “I don’t earn much but I want to donate this money to keep what are you doing here going.”

“That money was the best recognition of our work!”

During this visit the team also had an appointment with the minister of health of Ukraine to discuss the needs of mental health in Ukraine and future possible projects on the State level.

After all this I can only say: Isn’t God amazing!

Note: SMU would like to thank the team of professionals which included Robert Nickel, Behavioral Pediatrician; Allison Wainer, Clinical Psychologist; Amy Swanson, Clinical Psychologist; Hannah Sanford Keller, speech therapist; and Tatiana Terdal (a mother of two children with autism and an activist of the rights of children with disabilities).

Viktoriia Brzhezytska and SMU Editorial Staff