Solution 17:30 14 Jan 2022

Tea for bears and playing UNO: how a workshop for people with autism and Down syndrome works in Lviv

People with Down syndrome and autism in Ukraine after the age of 18 don't receive support from the state. This problem is solved by public organizations; we explain how and for what means they manage to do it

What is the problem?

Every year, people with Down syndrome and autism graduate and don't know where to go next. The world around us is still not inclusive enough; for example, employers are reluctant to hire people with mental disabilities. So, after graduating from school, social life for people with autism or Down syndrome often ends, because they no longer have a place to go regularly, to study, communicate, and make friends. Autism spectrum disorder also affects how a person sees, hears, feels, and interacts with the world and people. So it can be harder for people with autism to talk to others and recognize signs of communication. Because of this, they feel great anxiety and worry.

These people need places where they can spend their free time and gain useful social skills, and most importantly, not to be alone and make friends. There are a lot of such people. According to the world's leading organizations dealing with autism, in recent years the number of people with such disorders is growing steadily and today is 1% of the world's population, i.e. more than the entire population of Ukraine. There are almost no statistics in Ukraine, and the existing figures either don't reflect the real state of affairs or contradict each other: according to the Ministry of Health, 3,200 people with autism officially live in Ukraine. Almost all representatives of public organizations say the real numbers are many times higher.

як у Львові працює майстерня для людей з аутизмом та синдромом Дауна

At the same time, the state doesn't take care of such issues. According to a survey conducted by the international NGO Child with a Future in Ukraine in 2020, only 6% of parents with a child with autism receive support from the state, and the majority, 67%, get it from NGOs and foundations. However, even this percentage applies to children and adolescents. After the age of 18, people with mental disabilities, like other people with disabilities, are virtually unneeded. However, there are organizations in Ukraine that are trying to solve these problems.

What is the solution?

The solution to this problem is proposed, in particular, by Anna Ivanicheva. After studying at university, she left programming to work in the public sector, realizing that her values ​​and priorities had changed.

як у Львові працює майстерня для людей з аутизмом та синдромом Дауна

At first, Anna volunteered because she couldn't decide on a direction, and then she joined a public organization that worked with young people with mental disorders. This pulled her in, and later, in 2015, Anna founded her public organization, Maisternia Mrii or Dream Workshop, which helps socialize young people with autism and Down syndrome. The organization started working in Lviv only in 2017; the founders dreamed for a long time, Anna explains. Hence the name. What is happening in the workshop?

How does it work?

The place that Anna and her colleague founded is like a center for people with mental disorders, where they can find support, where they have the right to full life and respect. The space is something like a classroom or a cafe, where everyone has their responsibilities. They work with young people over the age of 18 who have mental disorders. These include autism, Down syndrome, and mental retardation. Now there are 13 people, and more, unfortunately, can not be accepted in the Workshop yet.

як у Львові працює майстерня для людей з аутизмом та синдромом Дауна

The workshop has a clear work schedule, as stability and the absence of any changes in the schedule are extremely important for people with autism and Down syndrome. Here they meet, sing together, share news, and discuss the mood. Then some visitors prepare dinner, and others do something on their own. The day ends with a traditional ritual, a UNO game. It may seem to some that this day-to-day routine is boring. But it is thanks to the routine that young people remember certain processes. It is routine that gives them a sense of security and predictability, which is extremely important for people with autism and Down syndrome.

Students need to know what and when awaits them every day, because, as the founders of the Workshop said:

  • For people with autism, routine is like life. If you know what will happen next, you take a step. If there is uncertainty ahead, then you find yourself on the edge of an abyss, where it is logical to just stand and not move. It is only possible to develop in a routine;
  • The repetition of the same actions makes it possible to form a skill faster;
  • Predictability gives a sense of security. The usual rituals form a protective cocoon.

як у Львові працює майстерня для людей з аутизмом та синдромом Дауна

The second direction of the organization's work is to work with families. Dream Workshop conducts group and individual classes with the best psychologists and psychotherapists for students' families. Workshop staff also have monthly supervision to provide the best possible services.

The third direction is education. The film club of the workshop holds film screenings, writes articles, and provides consultations on the issues of correct treatment of people with disabilities.

як у Львові працює майстерня для людей з аутизмом та синдромом Дауна

Does it work?

Without additional funding, the Workshop couldn't have existed, so to be financially independent, Anna and her partner also created a tea workshop. They were inspired by the Lviv social enterprise Nut House, which makes cookies and directs funds to a center for women in crisis. And the Dream Workshop decided to make herbal teas.

Initially, it was planned to attract students: they planned to go to the Carpathians with them, collect herbs, dry them, and six months later, pack. The organizers found herbalists who have been collecting herbs for years and generations and began to cooperate: buying mixtures from herbalists or ordering their own. Author's recipes are not shared in the workshop, but they learned to deliver their teas to Yevhen Klopotenko's restaurant 100 Years Ago, Veterano Brownie, Lviv's Horikhovyi Dim, Kyiv's Good bread from good people, and even the bear shelter Domazhyr, where the masters export herbs that a bear likes.

як у Львові працює майстерня для людей з аутизмом та синдромом Дауна

How do people learn about the Dream Workshop? In the Workshop itself, they say that people get here thanks to the grapevine. People whose lives are associated with disability are closely connected and know each other well. Therefore, news in this circle spreads very quickly:

'When we started working, I just told about the idea to ​​an acquaintance raising a son with mental disorders. And she passed this information on to other parents. That's how the first visitors started coming to us," said Anna Ivanicheva.

як у Львові працює майстерня для людей з аутизмом та синдромом Дауна

Through daily activities, visitors of the center gain new skills and find friends instead of the isolation where people with mental disabilities are usually placed. For young people who come here, this is not just a place where their parents brought them. This is a space you want to return to. Some visitors have to drive for hours through traffic jams on the other side of town, but they still do. And they will continue to do so if the public organization has the funds to do so.

If you like the principles of the Workshop and you want more such changes, you can support the Dream Workshop with the following details:

  • Name of the recipient: MAISTERNIA MRII NGO
  • Recipient code: 39969773
  • IBAN account: UA183052990000026008041016058
  • Bank name: JSC CB "PRIVATBANK"
  • Purpose: non-refundable charitable assistance


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