San Fernando NGO marks World Autism Awareness Day with walk

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Autism awareness file photo courtesy Pixabay –

On April 2, in commemoration of World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), members of the NGO Autism Services South Support Group walked the streets of San Fernando to promote awareness and inclusion.

The group’s assistant manager, Khirsten Toni Ramkissoon, called for more to be done for people with autism as she feels the country is not ready to deal with it.

Some children with autism can function in public schools, but they are faced with an array of problems.

“I feel that nothing much is put in place, granted that the Ministry of Social Development offers a special-needs grant that people can apply for. We can prepare children for primary school, but when they get there, they encounter many problems. Sometimes aid is unavailable, and aid workers are not trained to deal with people with autism,” she said.

The National Institute of Mental Health in the US identifies autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn and behave.

“April is Autism Awareness Month. We celebrate it 365 days a year. But on this special day, we decided to have the walk to promote awareness,” she said. The walk started at Circular Road, San Fernando, and ended at Harris Promenade.

In 2007, the UN General Assembly designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. This year’s theme was acceptance.

“While we are making people aware of autism in the community, the country and the world, we want them to realise that our children need to be accepted. A lot of times, people say they have special needs and that is the end of that,” Ramkissoon told Newsday.

“We want people to be aware and to accept that autism exists. We want to give our children a chance just like any other person who has a disorder or disability.”

The group has been in existence for the past 15 years, and the staff works with children on the spectrum.

Ramkissoon added that many of the children have not just autism but also attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder and development and speech delays.

The NGO also has an Autism Early Intervention Centre at Circular Road, with students as young as two and a half years old.

There are over 600 children registered with the group, but the school can accommodate only about 45 students.

The group offers extra-curricular activities like swimming and gymnastics classes.She added, “We have a martial arts teacher on staff. The children are learning to play the pan. We get our children involved, just like any other children.”

Ramkissoon recalled that the group partnered with the Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme (YTEPP) Ltd last year. She praised YTEPP, saying children from 13-18 had the opportunity to learn a trade for six months (April-October 2023).

“YTEPP said the children did such a great programme that they are allowing us to have another one sometime this year,” she said. The group has also partnered with the Children’s Authority.San Fernando mayor Robert Parris met with the group on the promenade.

He praised the members, saying they had been doing wonderful work with the children. “That is most important. My message today is being different is not bad,” Parris said.

He said he has an autistic nephew who is about to graduate from university.

“I have a lot of fond memories with him, and he is living a very normal life.

“I believe that more can be done in TT for autistic people. We have to continue supporting groups that give back and help, especially young people.

“Society needs to become more accepting of people who are special. We are all, in our own way, special.”