DR RADICA MAHASE
Walt Disney said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
Over the weekend, the Support Autism T&T team opened Rahul’s Clubhouse in Marabella. Rahul’s Clubhouse is an autism-friendly space where individuals on the autism spectrum can engage in educational and social activities to help them develop intellectually, mentally and emotionally.
At Rahul’s Clubhouse, both children and young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder can participate in sensory-oriented games and activities. Activities are tailored to the specific needs of the autistic person and offered at either a nominal cost or free to those from lower-income groups, with a special focus on those from central/south, as they are most affected by inequitable resources and access to opportunities for self-development.
Rahul’s Clubhouse is a dream come true for me personally and for my family. My nephew, Rahul, was and continues to be the inspiration behind our advocacy work. I started Support Autism T&T eight years ago with the main aim of creating opportunities for him and others on the autism spectrum. My sister and I dealt with many challenges trying to get him diagnosed and enrolled in a school. We struggled to afford various therapies and find ways for him to socialise.
From the very beginning, I knew that if I wanted him to have access to opportunities, then we would have to create them ourselves. My vision was always very clear – work towards the creation of a safe space where he would have access to various therapies; an education that is relevant to his developmental age and in a format that would encourage him to learn; where he would learn life skills and be able to socialise with both people on the spectrum and neurotypical youths.
For the past eight years, my team and I have worked consistently towards making this dream a reality.
My niece, Maya Nanan, started the Siblings and Friends Network, which was the youth arm of Support Autism T&T. Sibs & Friends has grown up now and is a fully registered and functioning NGO on its own, with 250-plus youth volunteers between ten and 25. It is only through their commitment and hard work that Rahul’s Clubhouse has become a reality.
In fact, funding to set up Rahul’s Clubhouse comes from the Queen's Commonwealth Trust, a network of outstanding young leaders from throughout the Commonwealth. Maya was awarded a grant from the Platinum Jubilee Fund for Young Leaders, in commemoration of the queen’s platinum jubilee, and all three directors – Maya, Celine Frederick and Rajeev Ramlakhan – are members of this distinguished network of young changemakers.
Celine, the manager at Rahul’s Clubhouse, said at the opening ceremony, “A lot of preparation, research, late-night meetings and physical work took place as we wanted to ensure that our safe space for persons on the autism spectrum was well thought of and that we were able to cater for their needs as we believe they deserve equal opportunities and a chance to socialise and to leave their homes, their safe space, without being stared at or judged.
"Our volunteers are all trained and sensitised to our special visitors. We also have a buddy system in place where new volunteers get the opportunity to work with our regular and more experienced volunteers, ensuring that the transition and working with persons on the autism spectrum is one that would be smooth and fruitful.
"We strive to provide an all-rounded experience for the persons with autism who visits Rahul’s Clubhouse. Some activities we’ve had for the past months are cookie decorating focusing on vehicles, animals, colours and shapes; Valentine’s Day-themed crafts; yoga sessions; crafts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day; individualised sessions where half the session focuses on academics and the other half on play therapy – each individualised session is based on the needs of the specific child and each session is documented and recorded, ensuring that we are able to track their progress and make necessary changes to our programme
"We also launched our teacher enhancement programme, where prospective special-needs teachers will get the opportunity to work with these persons on the autism spectrum. Our training session for these teachers are very extensive, as we offer an array of classes. These include sign language, first aid, teaching strategies, understanding behavioural issues, security amongst other vital topics needed to be an effective reflective practitioner.
"In the upcoming months we at Rahul’s Clubhouse, will be diversifying our activities, as we intend to offer dance, football, crocheting, jewellery-making and other life skills.
"Also, all of our activities are at a minimal cost, as we would like to ensure that everyone can get the opportunity to attend our sessions. On a weekly basis, we are able to accommodate over 32 persons on the autism spectrum, each receiving the best care and opportunities given to them by our team.
"Thus far, the responses and feedback from the parents and family members of children and adults with autism who visits Rahul’s Clubhouse is just humbling! Knowing that so many of them struggle to afford private therapy sessions and that there are limited opportunities for these persons, we at Rahul’s Clubhouse would like you all to know, that we will strive to make a difference in TT. We will strive to provide affordable and accessible opportunities for persons on the autism spectrum, we will do our part to make TT an inclusive country so that every creed and race, find an equal place. We at Autism Siblings & Friends Network will continue advocating and creating opportunities until every individual on the autism spectrum has an equal place in our country.”
Dreams can become a reality, once one is fully committed and willing to pursue them!
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T