DR RADICA MAHASE
One year ago, Rahul’s Clubhouse opened its doors and I remember our very first child very clearly. Zane, a cute, little four year old, attended the very first session. He was such a shy little boy; he didn’t communicate verbally with any of us and he didn’t want to come inside.
Our facilitators very quickly improvised – they put some playmats in the waiting area outside and they engaged him in some fun craft activities. The next week he came inside and since then he has been attending sessions regularly at Rahul’s Clubhouse. This week Rahul’s Clubhouse celebrates one year – Zane is now five, he can carry on a conversation, he interacts with all the facilitators and he’s happy to socialise with the other children at our VIP Kids Club. He loves being at Rahul’s Clubhouse!
Zane is just one of the many children and adults who have been diagnosed with autism, who attend both individual and group sessions at Rahul’ Clubhouse. He is also not the first child who had to adjust to physical sessions – quite a few did not interact or communicate verbally with us and there were others whom, we started working outside, but over the last few months, they look forward to coming to sessions and they enjoy being in our sensory-friendly space.
Rahul’s Clubhouse is a centre where both children and adults who are diagnosed with autism, can come and engage in sensory-friendly activities to help them develop intellectually, mentally, and emotionally. All activities are tailored to the specific needs of the autistic person. We started Rahul’s Clubhouse when our autism youth advocate, Maya Nanan, was the recipient of a grant from the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, Youth Ventures Programme, in commemoration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
In our one year of existence, we have facilitated sessions for both children and adults. Many of the young adults have not been in any educational institution for some years; some were forced to drop out when covid struck because the online learning environment did not cater to their needs; others never attended schools; some were enrolled in schools but need the extra individual attention that they do not get in a classroom with 15-plus other children.
For many of the younger ones, it was their first time interacting with anyone outside of their homes. For the older ones, the adults, here was an opportunity for them to engage in activities such as art and craft, dance and yoga in a fun manner, without having to sit for long periods, with facilitators who are understanding of their needs and who would go that extra mile to make sure that they are learning.
Many parents and caregivers grasp the opportunities presented at Rahul’s Clubhouse. One father of a 25-year-old woman noted that it was the first time in some years that he was able to find a place that was safe and accommodating of his daughter’s needs. For many years he had advocated for more opportunities for her but nothing changed and he had given up. Now his daughter looks forward to attending sessions at Rahul’s Clubhouse and he was happy that she had something to help her develop.
Another parent of a five-year-old boy stated that her son started pre-school but he could not sit and focus. The teachers thought he was disruptive and after one term he stopped going to school. She needed a place where he could start with shorter sessions and where he could learn in a creative manner, as he was a visual learner. According to her, “Rahul’s Clubhouse is the perfect place for my son because he can get into the whole learning environment slowly, until he is ready to attend school for the full day. He is picking up fast, he loves the space and he is comfortable and happy. When he started he would only focus for about 15 to 20 minutes but now he is sitting longer and doing more activities, sowing my interest in learning. He wants to learn.”
When I conceptualised the idea of Rahul’s Clubhouse, I always thought – what do I want for my nephew Rahul (the clubhouse is named after him)? I want a place where he would be comfortable and where he would be safe; a place with people who would understand him and try to engage with him at his level. All the activities at Rahul’s Clubhouse are modelled around what I know he would like and what other people with autism would like – the sensory friendly activities; the creative ways of teaching; a fun and engaging way to make sure that everyone benefit fully from the sessions.
It is very important to me that Rahul’s Clubhouse provide opportunities for both children and adults so that they could explore their talents and develop their skills. It is also very important that every facilitator and all volunteers understand the little things that make a big difference – going the extra mile to engage a child; being extra supportive and flexible; truly understanding that every person learns differently.
In just one year we have already made a big difference to some special children and adults and we will continue to work towards expanding our services, increasing our sessions and reaching more autistic people who cannot afford to access opportunities. Thank you to everyone who selflessly contribute towards making Rahul’s Clubhouse such a unique experience and congratulations to all our facilitators and volunteers.
Remember, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in our hands to make a difference.”
Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T