By ALESHA CADET
Tribune Features Reporter
UNDER the theme “Spoken Spectrums”, students, parents and teachers of the Garvin Tynes Primary School’s Autism Unit will be hosting to a night of art and music.
The event is scheduled to take place at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas on Friday, March 29, from 7.30pm to 10pm.
Anna Martin, an educator at the school, told Tribune Health that both art and music play a vital role in the lives of students with disabilities. The school is currently preparing for Autism Awareness Month in April, and Ms Martin said a night of spoken word poetry is the perfect way to kick things off.
The event, she added, is also being held in an effort to help defray the costs for the Autism Unit’s visit to The Quest Centre, in Hollywood, Florida during the Easter break.
The Garvin Tynes Centre for Autism was established in 1999 with one classroom. Now, 20 years on, the unit encompasses four classes, a daily living skills room and a computer lab, and has a total of 46 students ranging in age from four to 13 years old.
“It is our hope to build a relationship with the NAGB in hopes that artists would assist the Unit in providing lessons for the children. This event will also provide information and awareness for autism as it will be the first event to usher in Autism Awareness Month,” said Ms Martin.
Highlights throughout the night will include art pieces on display made by the students for a silent auction. Various poets will also take the stage to perform.
“I believe that an event such as this provides a positive environment for Bahamians to showcase their talents and skills, network and educate the public on the abilities that students with diverse learning abilities acquire,” said Ms Martin.
She said there are many misconceptions about individuals living with physical and mental disabilities, as well as autism. But she said she knows many autistic people who are very capable citizens of society. Many “average” Bahamians, she said, are probably walking around with some sort of cogitative inability/challenge but just haven’t been tested for it.
“In the Bahamas, the number of new autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis has been increasing year after year, paralleling US statistics of one in every 68 children. Unlike the United States, however, publicly funded services for school-aged children with ASD are extremely limited,” said Ms Martin.
“On average, a typical child with autism should receive a minimum of 25 hours a week of occupational, speech and behavioural therapy. This equates to a minimum of 75 hours of therapy per week. Publicly, these services are either non-existent or over-subscribed. Privately, they are out of the reach of many parents due to cost. As such, a number of children with autism receive no therapeutic services at all, greatly impacting their chances of leading independent and productive lives. Training sessions and workshops offered by entities like the Quest Centre can help to fill this gap and create better outcomes for ASD children.”
She believes once Bahamians realise the diversity of the autism spectrum disorder, they will be receptive and better understand that every individual with autism deserves a chance to live a good life. For her, education is paramount in ensuring that those with special needs are treated fairly.
“As April is Autism Awareness Month most of our advocacy is done at this time. The Centre will be hosting its annual awareness assembly at school on April 26, and we are also planning a motorcade, balloon release, and a walk about in the community to educate the public about autism. At school we plan to work with the teachers in the mainstream to provide information on disabilities as well as autism,” she said.
“We encourage corporate stakeholders to come in and interact with the students to provide that experience with hopes of breaking the stigma (attached to) individuals with autism.”