Autism Baia Mare is an association whose members are parents of children with special needs, and it provides services and support for 120 children aged 2 to 15, since 2008. The association’s team had never worked with displaced people before, but given the emotional and painful side of the events, they decided to make their services available to refugees in need, confident that their expertise could be of use. Little did they know in late February that it would be the beginning of a long friendship, with hundreds of people coming to their doorstep or joining them in recreational activities.
On 28 February, Andreea Iațu, a social worker and Vice-President of the Baia Mare Autism Association, was heartbroken watching the news about the wave of people from Ukraine seeking peace and quiet in Romania. Around her, the Baia Mare inhabitants were gearing up to offer their support at the border crossing points or the local housing centers.
She felt the need to do something, so she posted on the Association’s Facebook page: “Deeply touched by the drama of our neighbors, we offer assistance to families who have children with special needs (and not only) and who are staying in Baia Mare. We offer spaces where children can play and socialize, and we also offer recovery services where possible. We don’t speak Ukrainian, but the language of love is universal! The activities take place at the Day Recovery Center, 52, V. Babeș str.“.
Little did they know back then that in May an autistic boy and his family would arrive at their center, deeply overwhelmed by the experience of hiding from bombing raids for days, the arduous journey and the adjustment to a new and foreign environment. “They couldn’t go anywhere with him,” says Andreea Iațu. “He was not verbal at all, they couldn’t go shopping or take a stroll, he was showing extremely difficult behavior. He would eat meatballs exclusively.“
Months of daily work and huge dedication followed as the boy’s parents understood every working method at the recovery center and continued to practice them at home.
“Out of nowhere, one day we were working on an activity, and the little boy just started talking. He told us that we wouldn’t be able to convince him to do what we asked“, Andreea smiles, remembering the moment when they realized that the boy understood everything that was happening and was finally starting to verbalize. After a lot of playing shop, on a walk, at the restaurant, the little boy recovered quickly and the family’s life gradually turned for the better.
“Today they can go shopping with him, they can go for a walk, there many new items on the menu. I gradually expose him to new situations with confidence. Such things were impossible until they started the recovery therapy“, explains Andreea Iațu. “The parents are very grateful, but it was their contribution as well. They understood exactly how to work with him, saw the results and were constantly practicing what they had learned. They are remarkable people and have shown tremendous strength aimed at their child’s recovery in such a difficult context.“
Beyond the Association’s expertise related to children with special needs and their families, the Autism Baia Mare team made attempts throughout the summer to create social and recreational contexts that would bring Ukrainians closer to the local culture and encourage them to discover the good things Romania had to offer.
With each planting of flowers and strawberries or painting birdhouses in the garden of the Day Center, with each horse-riding trip, pottery, pasta or bread making workshops or tasting of the Maramureș area traditional dishes, volunteers, Ukrainians and Romanian families who joined the activities were convinced yet again that “the language of friendship is universal, regardless of the actual language spoken“.
Baia Mare Autism Association is one of the organizations that are part of Care for Ukraine Project, funded by CAREinternationalᴿᴾ through SERA Romania Foundation, CARE France and FONPC.