Sydney Mahabir tackles autism through art

Sydney Mahabir has a passion for fashion design. - Photo courtesy Vanessa Benjamin-Mahabir
Sydney Mahabir has a passion for fashion design. - Photo courtesy Vanessa Benjamin-Mahabir


Sydney Mahabir, a vibrant 15-year-old with a flair for creativity, is not your ordinary teenager. Born with a unique perspective on the world, her journey as an individual with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a testament to resilience, passion, and boundless creativity.

Through her T-shirt line, Mahabir is not only challenging misconceptions about autism but also spreading messages of kindness, acceptance, and empowerment.

Reflecting on Sydney's early years, her mother, Venessa Benjamin-Mahabir, recalled noticing developmental differences as early as one to two years old.

“Sydney was not reaching her developmental milestones. She was not saying words and mostly babbling. She would mostly point to things she wanted.

"Another thing I noticed early was she would cover her ears at loud noises, even household equipment like blenders, food processors and tools. The noise was too much for her and she had strong food aversions.

"I later realised that various textures and tastes were very challenging for her, and it still is, she has a very limited diet. Thankfully, since last year she has tried a few other foods and have added them to her diet so her progress with food is slowly but surely progressing and I’m sure other autism parents would see that as a victory...because we surely do.”

Mahabir was diagnosed with ASD at the age of four by a developmental paediatrician.

Benjamin-Mahabir admitted she felt perplexed at Mahabir’s diagnosis.

Sydney Mahabir, who has autism, has a special talent for art and craft. - Photo courtesy Vanessa Benjamin-Mahabir -

“I did not know anything about autism and of course, I started to research about it. And then, I have to admit, I felt sad not for me but for my child.

"Initially, I did not know how to navigate these changes how to help her and understand her since autism affects social communication and interaction.

"I must say my faith in God helped me get through those challenging times. God has given me and my family the strength to overcome, and although at times it is very difficult, we hold strong to our faith.”

At the age of five, Mahabir started talking more and using sentences. She then attended a private preschool and at the age of six, she started at a school for children with autism for a couple of years. Mahabir had difficulties with traditional learning.

“She always had problems learning to read,” her mother said. “She cannot remember letters or numbers, but can write by copying. She has only recently learnt to write her first name by memory, and has started signing it on her drawings.”

As Mahabir grew older, her talent for drawing began to shine through. She also discovered she loved fashion design.

“Sydney has a unique skill in drawing and creating art through fashion,” Benjamin-Mahabir proudly said.

“At around age nine I noticed Sydney making doll clothes with her art and crafts materials and even household materials. She would use paper towels, cotton balls, paper and wool. She would paint them in vibrant colours, using her poster paints and markers, and would create clothes for her dolls. She would style them, and they looked great.

"She also started drawing at that age…drawing outfits to design and characters from her imagination.

"After seeing her interests in designing and drawing, her dad and I began buying her fabric paints, sketch pads, all sorts of coloured pencils, drawing pencils and anything she needed to do what she loves doing.

"Sydney draws every day. We do whatever we can to support her passion.”

Sydney Mahabir has created a line of T-shirts printed with her original drawings. - Photo courtesy Vanessa Benjamin-Mahabir

This eventually blossomed into a thriving venture: her own T-shirt line.

After family members saw Sydney's drawings of her imagined characters, they suggested her parents print them on T-shirts, and Mahabir loved that idea. Last year, at Support Autism T&T’s annual tea party and fashion show in August, Mahabir launched her T-shirt line.

“Special thanks to Support Autism T&T and Rahul’s Clubhouse for their love and support. They have provided the opportunity for Sydney to launch her line and showcase her gift,” her mother said.

Benjamin-Mahabir explained the process: “Sydney draws a character from her imagination and over a couple days she spends time colouring it until it is completed. She then tells me what message she wants to add to it.”

Some of her messages are “Follow Your Dreams,” “Brave and Strong,” “Just be Kind,” “Be Awesome…Be You” and “I am blessed.”

“I must say that Sydney also uses her drawings to express her emotions and feelings. Things she can’t verbally communicate, she draws,” said Benjamin-Mahabir.

“She recently drew two characters with different skin tones, and after asking her about it she said, 'Some people have different skin tones and it's beautiful.'

"After closer inspection, I realised she drew characters with vitiligo. I realised she is representing people with different challenges and showing how beautiful they are through her art. I am so proud.”

Mahabir has sold over 80 T-shirts since her launch and has got much love and support from those around her. She aspires to make more characters and has a couple of new ideas and ventures in the making.

As she approaches adulthood, new challenges and aspirations arise. She wants to go to college to study art and design.

“Sadly, we don’t have those available in our country,” her mother lamented. “There is a lack of opportunities for our children to function productively in society – no skills learning, no computer training, no opportunities of socialising in school settings with their neurotypical peers.”

Mahabir often asks her mother about prom, but Benjamin-Mahabir explained, “Going to school at 15, there is no opportunity for those things...only the ones we parents create for them.

"Also, counselling should be made available for persons with autism. A child with autism will become a teenager with autism, then an adult with autism, and the physical and socio-emotional changes they go through can be difficult to navigate. I have seen this with Sydney, as she’s in her teen years.”

Asked what advice she would offer to parents whose children have been diagnosed with autism, Benjamin-Mahabir said, “Just love your child unconditionally and try not to get overwhelmed.

"Have a good support system, but know it’s a lifelong journey. Support your child through every new chapter and you will learn to 'dance in (the) rain.' Pay attention to your child’s interests and you will discover their strengths and their weaknesses.

"Yes, you will cry at times, but you will laugh as well. You will feel pain, but you will also experience great joy and strength. You will celebrate every new milestone and through it all you will become so resilient and strong.

"Parents, enjoy the journey. My faith in Christ have brought me so much peace and I have put my trust in God to help me navigate our journey with autism.”

A drawing by Sydney Mahabir. - Photo courtesy Vanessa Benjamin-Mahabir

Benjamin-Mahabir remains optimistic about her daughter’s future.

“My hopes and aspirations for Sydney’s future are for her to continue to use her voice through her art and drawings, as she has already started to do. I know she has aspirations and as her mother, I will encourage and support her to live a life of purpose and be happy. Her future is in God’s hands…in that I am confident, and her dad and I will support her in all her aspirations.”

To see Mahabir’s T-shirt designs, visit her Facebook page: Sydney Mahabir, or visit her booth at Support Autism T&T 5k Run & Fun Walk on April 20 at 4 pm at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy, Tarouba.


"Sydney Mahabir tackles autism through art"

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