Alumni Profiles, Giving Back

Autism Advocacy in Africa

Quesia Raqib Adair Cardon
Quesia Raqib (pictured left) with Adair Cardon set out to offer therapies and support to the Senegalese community. (Photo: Quesia Raqib)

When Quesia Raqib (pictured left) moved from Chicago to Senegal in 2015, she knew it would be hard to find quality education and programs for her autistic son, who was 7 years old. “I knew that resources were not comparable” to those in the states, “but not to what extent,” she says. At the time, Senegal had no autism-specific resources or services.

Without regular therapy, her son began regressing, and Raqib LC’03, a special-needs educator, decided to become certified in what is considered one of the most effective autism therapies: applied behavior analysis (ABA), an evidence-based treatment that can vastly improve language, communication, and social skills among autistic individuals.

In Africa, no studies of autism prevalence have ever been conducted. Senegal—with a ratio of less than one mental health professional per 100,000 people—offers few resources for parents, doctors, and educators, and the majority of autistic children never attend school.

In 2018, Raqib met Adair Cardon (pictured right), an American also pursuing ABA certification, and the two set out to offer therapies and support to the Senegalese community. “With no existing facilities, we had to make our own way,” says Raqib. As the country’s only ABA-certified therapists, Cardon and Raqib co-direct ABA Senegal, a program that provides both in-home and school-based therapy for children in Dakar, Senegal’s capital.

Now Raqib sees firsthand how well ABA works. “My son is responding wonderfully to therapy and is making consistent gains,” she says. This summer, she and Cardon will take exams to become board-certified behavior analysts, enabling them to recruit, train, and supervise other therapists.

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Story originally appeared in Rutgers Magazine