During my last two weeks in Bulgaria, Dr. Stankova introduced me to Milena, the leader of an organization for children with developmental disorders called Art and Skok. In this center, children focus on creating projects with ceramics, a type of therapy that helps improve their fine motor skills. Then, they sell their projects once they finish them! When I met Milena, I was given the opportunity to interview her and learn more about her 31-year-old son, with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome, Ivo. A few days later, I was honored to meet Ivo, learn more about him, and create a case study about his life.
While interviewing Ivo’s mother, Milena, I discovered her passion for helping children with developmental disorders. She explained to me that in the ’90s, little research was done on Asperger’s syndrome, and it was difficult to receive this diagnosis. It took four years for Ivo to be finally diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was six years old. After struggling to find a way to help her son for years, Milena was motivated to start an organization to help other children. I admire her dedication to the organization and find it extremely beneficial for both the children and their families. Here, I got to see mothers bonding with other mothers and engaging in fun activities with their children. I also saw the children getting along with each other, making jokes, and having fun while they focused on building pots!
The case study I worked on was split into two sections: Ivo’s childhood and adulthood. I learned that Ivo began showing signs of ASD when he was five months old and his reflexes were not emerging. Later, when Ivo was three years old, he experienced difficulty speaking, so he did not speak. Instead, to communicate with his family, he assigned numbers to each person and called them by that number. Milena described it as if Ivo had created his own language which I found very interesting!
As an adult, Ivo graduated from New Bulgarian University with a degree in law! I found it amazing that he is able to speak five languages, including English, Bulgarian, Spanish, French, and his favorite of all, Greek! I also learned that Ivo has a passion for his hobbies, including creating digital drawings and writing stories in Greek. Since he invests most of his time in his hobbies, he prefers to be alone. I also learned that Ivo follows a strict schedule because predictability provides him comfort. His schedule tends to consist of attending a software training course and doing his hobbies! Despite successfully obtaining a law degree, Ivo is unemployed due to companies not wanting to hire him because of his disability. Milena explained that an individual who holds a medical document stating their disability cannot ever be fired by a company. Unfortunately, due to this regulation, companies are not willing to give him a chance. I felt saddened to hear this news because Ivo has so much potential and holds unique qualities that could be beneficial to these companies. Despite this obstacle, Ivo maintains a positive attitude and is focused on completing a software certification. His goal is to work with computers and invest time in his hobbies while off-duty. I felt honored to get to talk to Ivo since he set time apart in his schedule to meet with me! I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn about Asperger’s Syndrome through Ivo and about his unique qualities!
As I look back to the past four weeks abroad, I can confidently say that I am returning back home to Texas knowing so much more than before. By shadowing Dr. Margarita Stankova and attending her lectures, I am more sure I want to be a pediatric clinical psychologist. Seeing Dr. Stankova help these children and their families has inspired me to do the same. I was honored to work alongside such caring, successful, humble, and hospitable professors. Both, Dr. Stankova and Dr. Ivanov made this study abroad program special. I look forward to coming home and sharing my experience with other students with similar career goals!
P.S. Attached is a photo of my professors: Dr. Stankova, Dr. Ivanov, and me in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The second photo is of me during my last day attending New Bulgarian University!