The Autistic Society of Trinidad and Tobago is calling for a Government subvention to assist individuals and families affected by what has been described as a silent epidemic.
Speaking yesterday at Republic Bank’s media launch of Autism Awareness Month 2013, general manager of the society Nichol Alves said although Republic Bank was their major sponsor, Government funding is needed to provide the necessary services to this country’s autistic population—which ranks in the thousands.
Alves said when a child is diagnosed with autism, he or she needs 20 to 40 hours of therapy every week, but at present the Autistic Society can offer only two hours a week because of limited resources.
“To date, there are over 450 families registered with [the society]. Our group extends services as funding is available. We have received funding from a variety of sources to conduct workshops in autism since 1999.
“[The society] needs $3.9 million per year to effectively run all its centres. At this time our group does not receive a subvention from any Government ministry, but has submitted proposals to seven ministries: Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Ministry of the People and Social Development, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Community Development and Ministry of Cultural Diversity and Social Integration,” she said.
President of the society Teresina Sieunarine told the Express they have been attempting to get a meeting with Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh since he took office in 2010, but have so far been unsuccessful.
“The minister needs to understand that autism is different to Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy. This is a silent disability that tends to get overlooked, but is in just as much need as those with other disabilities,” she said.
Sieunarine added that the Ministry of Health has been the only ministry in constant contact with the group. “We have spoken with the Minister of Gender and Youth Development and Minister of Education, but there has been no follow-up on those discussions,” she said.
Head of the Disability Unit at the Ministry of the People Michael Reid yesterday told the Express he has no problem making a recommendation for a subvention on behalf of the Autistic Society. “The ministry has been working with the [society] and we give them financial assistance every year for International Disability Day in December.
“I am not sure if a request for subvention has been made because usually such a request would go to the permanent secretary and then to the Social Investigations Division and then to me for a recommendation, but I have not yet seen any sort of proposal from them.
“I am well aware of the work that the [society] does, so I would definitely make a recommendation on behalf of the [society],” he said.
Reid added that he will be making arrangements to have Sieunarine get the meeting with Ramadharsingh that she has been seeking.