YEREVAN — April is World Autism Awareness Month, a time to learn about autism. Organizations offering help to people with autism use the opportunity to educate the public on their work and many, like the My Way center in Yerevan, invite the public to join them in celebrating their achievements. The My Way Socio-Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Day Care Center is a leading institution for helping children, youngsters and young adults with autism, not only in Armenia, but throughout the region. (See https://mirrorspectator.com/2017/06/15/my-way-is-helping-children-with-autism-in-armenia/)
Usually April 2 is the day designated as World Autism Awareness Day, but, since that date has coincided with commemorations of the Four-Day War over recent years, the organizers chose a later date. Hoping to avoid inclement weather in a month known for its instability, they chose April 12; as luck would have it, that very day turned out to be a day of unprecedented winds that even tore a roof off a five-story building in Masiv and caused moderate damage here and there. As a result, instead of holding their Inclusive Concert and Exhibition-Sale outdoors, as they did last year, this time they had to convene indoors, in the new Multi-Functioning Performance Hall.
According to Sona Petrosyan, co-founder and board member, it turned out to be a huge success. “It was crowded of course, but the spirit was so high, the joy and mood so festive, that we immediately stopped worrying about the lost opportunity to be outdoors, and were happy and pleased as hosts with everything that took place,” she said.
Seats in the hall were reserved for students and official guests, and the overflow crowd enjoyed the performances from the spacious corridors and hallway areas in a large, renovated second building of the facility. The musicians and students performed, played and sang on the stage while staff members, with remaining students, parents and other, easygoing guests, were dancing to the music and having the time of our lives in the corridors. It was, as Petrosyan described it, “Total flexibility, no protocol, spontaneity, and, thus, joy! Joy and pride for our students, who, thanks to years and years of persistent ongoing socialization work, smooth and gentle behavior correction and development therapies, due to the unconditional love they receive from their families and their second family, My Way, are now able, not only to tolerate an unexpected change, but to welcome one, even to take joy in what is unusual, different from their daily routine, an outstanding situation, and to get the most out of it, to have fun, to party, together and even with strangers!” There was, she added, “no need to explain how contagious this mood can be! The atmosphere was absolutely festive!”
Through years of work at the center, Petrosyan has had the opportunity to observe the way first-time visitors react and how their initial reactions may change very quickly. If at first they are tense, uncomfortable, perhaps harboring prejudices or reservations, expecting to witness scenes of suffering and sorrow, when they see the youngsters engaging in musical activities and presenting their art work, they relax, smile and enjoy the process. “They have fun,” Petrosyan commented, “they themselves find it hard to explain what has just happened to them, they all leave happy, touched, inspired, kind and open. And, this effect is a long lasting, life changing phenomenon. So,” she summed it up, “it’s sometimes a big question of who is getting therapy from whom.”