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Ed. Magazine

Noteable: Kwan Hansongkitpong

Kwan Hansongkitpong

Kwan HansongkitpongKwan Hansongkitpong, Ed.M.'10, lives in Bangkok, Thailand, where she is clinical director of the Little Sprouts Children's Centre, president of Autism Awareness Thailand, and director of the Rainbow Room Foundation, a special needs awareness group. She was recently named by the Bangkok Post as one of the "66 Young Leaders Shaping Bangkok's Future."

Program: Mind, Brain, and Education
Goal: To influence a positive change in Thai society

Compared with the United States, the number of reported cases of autism in Thailand is low. Up to 10 times lower, in fact. But, according to Kwan Hansongkitpong, a clinical psychologist specializing in children with autism and other special needs, that doesn't mean it isn't an issue.

"Autism doesn't discriminate. It happens in children and families all around the world, Thailand included," she says. "Autism prevalence here is increasing at an exponential rate. It is becoming one of the prominent concerns for families and schools in affected communities."

Despite the increase in documented cases in Thailand, autism awareness country-wide remains low. "Thailand is a developing country, and we have many competing issues that need awareness and support. Autism is only one of them," Hansongkitpong says. "I wanted to bring it to the forefront."

That's why, in 2009, Hansongkitpong founded the nonprofit Autism Awareness Thailand. Through activities such as interactive games, films, and social media, the organization is trying to create a sense of responsibility and respect for the issue of autism in Thai children, adolescents, and young adults. This includes promoting an appreciation of diversity and encouraging inclusion. Hansongkitpong says changing perceptions about autism in some communities has been challenging, but she sees progress.

"Meeting like-minded people, seeing families overcoming their struggle to accept autism, watching children with autism playing alongside peers, seeing an inclusive classroom truly appreciating diversity it has been granted, [these are] things that keep me going," she says.

Hansongkitpong also finds inspiration in a somewhat unlikely place: the small rural villages of Thailand that, as she says, have it all figured out. "They live together peacefully and collectively as one," she says. "They respect each villager as an equal member of their community, regardless of who that person is, what condition he or she may have, or what he or she looks like."

It is this attitude that Hansongkitpong and her nonprofit are encouraging other communities to emulate. "The underlying beauty of this is how it works out so simply," she says. "Seeing these villages reminds me that the key to creating awareness, acceptance, and understanding is rather simple: It is in the heart."

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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