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A future for my son and opportunities for others

Eine Frau mittleren Alters steht gebückt vor einem Mädchen und hält zwei Finger hoch.
Jelena at work with a young patient.

A future for my son and opportunities for others

My name is Jelena. I’m 35 years old and have two sons. One of my sons suffers from autism, and I’ve done my best to help him. This made me realise that I can also help other people. At the end of 2020 I was supported by the German Information Centre on Migration, Training and Employment (DIMAK) and its partner organisation HELP to set up my therapy practise “Senzor Gym”. That’s where I help children with disabilities to learn a range of movements – from simple hand movements to fine motor skills. I firmly believe that I can do so much more.

Ein kleiner Junge sitzt auf einem Kinderfahrrad mit beiden Füßen auf den Pedalen. Eine Frau hockt daneben und stützt den Jungen.
Jelena using a bicycle to help a young boy learn motor skills.

My story and that of my son

My family lived in Kosovo, but we fled to Serbia during the war in the 1990s. At first we lived in Prokuplje, where I gave birth to my son. I soon noticed that he was developing differently from other children. He was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder where sufferers have difficulties with social interaction and communicating with other people. It can result in limited speech and motor skills.

The doctors warned me that my son would never be able to lead a normal life. I wasn’t prepared to accept that. He’s now twelve years old, goes to school, has friends, and likes art and sports. My other son is six years old and doesn’t have any health problems.

Our journey has been difficult though. We had to move to Niš, because this was the only place where therapy was available. Even here we have far fewer therapy options than are available in Belgrade, so we often have to make the long journey there and back. I'm a physiotherapist by profession. I eventually started working at a speech therapy practice where my son was a patient. I realised that working with my own son makes it easier for me to understand other children on the autistic spectrum. I’ve learned how to treat such children as equals.

Ein junges Mädchen springt Trampolin. Eine Frau steht neben dem Trampolin und hält das Mädchen an den Händen fest.
Coordinated movement: Jelena also uses trampolining as part of her work.

Seizing the opportunity for support

A few years ago, HELP presented a support programme at a meeting for parents of children with autism. This programme aims to support people who want to start their own business that helps children with special needs. I already had my own future practice in mind when I was listening to this presentation. I submitted a project shortly after that – and it was approved.

HELP sent me equipment that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford. My brother provided me with a small building. It had been neglected and was due to be demolished. But we renovated it, and I began my work. This year, DIMAK has helped me through a consultation and mentoring programme. A few other start-ups and I received a lot of online advice regarding the management and further development of our companies. That was really useful, because this is the first time I’ve run a business.

The programme includes five modules in which participants develop their knowledge of how to run a business. It covers entrepreneurship, e-business, marketing, business communication and culture as well as innovation. The participants are also given individual advice from mentors, meaning that they can develop new business ideas together. DIMAK also provided me with disinfectant and an air filter, which meant that I could carry on working even during the corona pandemic.

Ein junges Mädchen läuft auf einem Laufband und spielt währenddessen ein Spiel. Eine Frau steht daneben und sieht zu.
Different pieces of therapy equipment are available, including a treadmill and children's games.

I’m proud of what I do. Now I want to do more.

I’m proud. It's been a difficult time, and it still is. But I’ve set up my practice despite everything. I can now help a lot of children as well as their families. Apart from my practice, there’s only one other practice in southern Serbia that offers sensory therapy for children with an autism spectrum disorder. I’ve also recently completed courses in sensory therapy at the Institute for Mental Health in Belgrade. Courses like these are brilliant for children with autism, because the training enables therapists like me to better understand how I can help them. I also learned a lot about that myself while I was raising my son.

Parents often bring their children from far away. I get a lot of phone calls from families who need support for their children. I’m currently investigating ways to expand my business. I could for instance employ a speech therapist or a special needs teacher. Children could then get all of their therapy in one place. I’ve taken the first steps, but it’s also clear that there’s still a lot more for me to do in this area.

Date: 12/2021

The opportunities for advice and assistance described here are offered as part of “Returning to New Opportunities”.

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I’m proud. It's been a difficult time, and it still is. But I’ve set up my practice despite everything. I can now help a lot of children as well as their families.

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