There must be a change in public attitudes towards children suffering from autism and while a number of those with the disorder are receiving held from the Step by Step Foundation there are many more on the waiting list.
These were some of the points made by Dr Suraiya Ismail, Chair of the Executive Committee of the Step by Step Foundation at a walk on Saturday to launch Autism Awareness Month. The `Light it up blue’ event was a collaboration of the Foundation and Republic Bank (Guyana) Limited, according to a release from the Ministry of the Presidency. First Lady Sandra Granger, the patron for Autism Month, was among those in attendance.
Speaking about the Foundation, Dr Ismail said “We have grown from five children and three tutors to nineteen children and seven tutors. Our growth was achieved through the generosity of many, many donors, from the private sector and from individuals too many to name”.
While the Foundation has “made a significant beginning in enabling children with autism to develop their maximum potential and in helping their families to cope with the many challenges they face,” she said, there is still more to be done.
The release said that Dr. Ismail pointed out that the school “has a wait list of 40 children seeking admission” who cannot be accommodated as the Foundation has neither the space nor the funds to employ more tutors. However, she was pleased to collaborate with the Ministry of Education and is grateful for the land it has provided to construct a larger facility.
She called for a change in the attitudes meted out to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their parents, who continue to face stigma due to a lack of public understanding.
“Autism is a complex brain disorder…which shows itself in a young child as a mix of behavioural, communication and social symptoms,” Dr Ismail said, noting that there is no known cause or cure.
She disclosed that the Foundation and the Ministry will be embarking on a training exercise where the Ministry will assign teachers to the Foundation for a period so they can learn how to manage children with the disorder. The release said that teachers will then apply that knowledge back in their own schools. Dr Ismail expects the training to greatly impact how children with ASD are nurtured. The Foundation is now actively seeking funds to construct its new school.
The release reported Minister of Education, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine as saying that Guyana can only confidently proclaim a satisfactory education system when special education needs are met. Dr. Roopnaraine said that since his tenure in office his ministry has strengthened its links with external partners across the spectrum of education services delivery especially in the area of special education.
“We have recommitted to increasing support to the Ptolemy Reid Rehabilitation Centre. We have provided critical assistance on the expansion of services provided by the United Women for Special Children and we have provided tangible support to the Step by Step Foundation with the provision of land to build a bigger facility to provide for autism education in Guyana,” Dr. Roopnaraine said in the release.
The Minister also noted that on completion of the planned expansion of the Foundation, “we will also provide the necessary human resource support for it to function properly. In other words, special training in autism will become a part of the curriculum at the Ministry of Education”.
The Minister also echoed appeals for a change in the attitudes demonstrated to persons affected by ASD.
The release said that the First Lady noted that it is essential that focus continues to be placed on helping children affected by ASD to reach their highest potential.
Mrs Granger also pointed out that there is only one autism school in Guyana, which cannot accommodate the scores of affected children countrywide, as such, “it is vital that they are included in the education system” where there special needs can be met.
Republic Bank’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Michelle Johnson said the bank was first inspired by the efforts of its parent company, Republic Bank Trinidad which has been, since 2008, a part of the fight to make a difference for autism.
“This caused us to consider the autism reality in our own country, Guyana, and it created a drive in us to learn more and to seek ways to address the issue locally. It is this strong drive that led us to seek out and approach the Step by Step Foundation when we learnt of their existence in 2012,”, the release reported her as saying.
Since that time, the Foundation became a partner under the bank’s Power to Make a Difference programme.
Other Step by Step Foundation members who attended the activity were Deputy Chair, Deborah Seebarran; Treasurer, Kiran Mattai and Cynthia Massay of the Ptolemy Reid Rehabilitation Centre.