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T&T trailing on autism education
Trinidad and Tobago is at least “30 to 40 years” behind countries such as the United Kingdom when it comes to addressing the education needs of persons affected by autism. Some affected persons, one expert argues, also needlessly occupy space at the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital. These conclusions come from autism specialist, Meghan Lee-Waterman, who is behind an upcoming seminar on autism awareness and the availability of “beneficial therapies” in T&T.
“In comparison to the UK, we are 30 to 40 years behind in our education system for special needs,” Lee-Waterman told the Guardian. “In the last decade or so there has been increased interest in developing training programmes in special education,” she added, “but there is still a need for experienced and qualified teachers to run these programmes.”
Only last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released statistics showing that autism now affects one in 68 American children. Autism is defined by the experts as a complex brain disorder characterised by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviours.
“Unfortunately,” Waterman-Lee said, “we do not have any statistics on the number of persons with autism living in Trinidad and Tobago.” Knowledge of this, she said, was important because “the greater the promotion of awareness, the greater the chance of early intervention in terms of education and therapies.” “This condition not only affects the individual but also the family members as their lives will permanently be affected and changed,” Waterman-Lee said.
“I suspect many cases of individuals with autism have been gravely misdiagnosed over the years thus filling up the psychiatric ward in St Ann’s,” she added. “With better awareness comes the increased chance to help those diagnosed and to strive to assist them to become as independent as possible.”
“In a country like Trinidad and Tobago,” the autism expert said, “there is a great need to promote autism awareness as there is a vast lack of understanding about this neurological condition which affects children of any and every ethnic background.” World Autism Awareness Day is being observed on Wednesday.
Waterman-Lee says she hopes Saturday’s seminar, entitled “The Missing Puzzle Piece”, will assist in raising awareness among a wide cross-section of professionals and other citizens on the issue of autism. It takes place from 8 a.m. at Cascadia Hotel in St Ann’s and includes presentations by specialists such as Drs Jasmine Roopnarine and Prith Bahadursingh, Analisa Wittet, Gean Marie Sheppard, Donella Rodriguez-Laird, Sirlon George, Jeanne Sabga-Aboud and Stephanie Llanos.
• Interested persons can contact Lee-Waterman at 299-4297 or Rodriguez-Laird at 678-1793.