Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Anton’s Right Here Center, for people with autism in St. Petersburg, Russia, was under pressure. It is one of the few places in the country that provides resources and educational support for teenagers and adults on the spectrum. Until recently, we had no official statistics on autism in Russia,” says Elena Filbert, the center’s executive director. “While there is some statistical information available about children, we have no such information about adults.”
During the pandemic, the center quickly expanded its reach from teenagers and adults to children as well. “Families were turning to us in desperation. They couldn’t leave the house with the children and needed help,” Filbert says. The center stepped in to offer tutoring, food and financial assistance.
The center also organized its first ever week-long summer camp, hosting 14 families and their autistic children at the end of July. They invited both children with autism and the neurotypical children of people who work at the center to participate.
“This camp was just our first and very memorable experience,” Filbert says. “Our new dream is to build a kindergarten for our children. It was important for us to make the camp inclusive to show the neurotypical children the work that their parents do, and to make them think and ask questions about children with autism. One girl named Veronika, for instance, started asking her mother what will happen to her camp friend when he grows up. It is important to raise a young generation that will be accepting of everyone and will advocate for people who don’t get the necessary support. Although we used some methodologies we’ve learned about before, our main approach to the experience was to treat children as children first, and as children with autism second.”