Above: Amoy Boodoo and her son Kendell at Autism Place, in D’Abadie. Photos courtesy IGT.
As a mother of a son diagnosed with autism, Amoy Boodoo, knows firsthand the many challenges a parent of an autistic child faces on a daily basis.
Boodoo found out about the Autistic Society of Trinidad and Tobago, a non-government organization (NGO) in 2000, through her sister-in-law who was a special education teacher with the Ministry of Education. She was attending a five-day training workshop being conducted at the Autistic Society and invited her to a session. The Autistic Society is dedicated to families whose loved ones are affected with autism, and was founded in May 1990 by a few families as a support group with Founder and President, Ms. Sieunarine, who is a former teacher.
Since that initial interaction with the Autistic Society, Boodoo became increasingly interested in the work that they do and went on to become a volunteer, attending every workshop since then.
Some eight years later, Boodoo was asked to assist parent training sessions at Autism Place, as a result of her personal experience of being a parent of a child with autism and the training she received from the Austisic Society.
Autism Place is the headquarters of the Autistic Society and offers support for parents and provides information on how to cope with a child with autism. There, she met with parents on an individual basis and worked closely with and empowered parents who are the core persons that influence an autistic child’s development; her son also participated in activities at Autism Place.
In 2012, IGT, formerly known as GTECH, approached the Autism Place through the company’s philanthropic initiative, the After School Advantage Programme, to determine what would enhance the lives of the autistic children who attend the Autism Place. IGT donated iPads in response, as the technology significantly assisted the children with their communication skills.
The iPad is an effective educational tool for children and adults with autism. It can be used to teach social skills and improve social interaction with peers and adults using specific apps on the device. It can also be used as a form of augmentative communication, especially for those who have limited or no speech.
The IGT After School Advantage Programme, seeks to provide technological literacy and development to the youth of Trinidad & Tobago. It has partnered with several non-government organizations and institutions that offer invaluable services to young people with disabilities or the less fortunate to help them improve their lives.
Some of the NGO’s that serve young people with disabilities that IGT partners with through its After School Advantage programme include: the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD); Caribbean Kids and Families Therapy Organization (CKFTO); LIFE Centre; Memisa and Immortelle. The company also works with children’s homes and youth centers where they have installed fully equipped computer labs to provide children access to computers and technology to assist with school work.
A few these partners include Christ Child Convalescent Home; Cotton Tree Foundation; Rainbow Rescue Home for Boys; Jairah Boys and Raffa Girls Homes; and in Tobago, The Scarborough Youth Center for Development and Sylphil Home.
In August 2012, the partnership between the Autism Place and IGT was officially formed when the company donated 10 iPads.Since that initial donation to Autism Place, IGT has made two further donations of iPads, provided access to apps and software, as well as assistive devices so children may more easily operate the iPads.
A variety of apps are used on the iPad at the Autism Place such as iMovie, which allows the tutors to make a video-modelling clip that teaches students positive behavior, or skills by showing them what to copy, such as the act of putting on a seatbelt. Previously a camera and other equipment was required to record and play footage to demonstrate a skill to a student. Now, videos can be recorded, edited, and played directly on the iPad.
Today, Boodoo is the center manager at Autism Place where she teaches and guides both children and parents. Her son who benefitted from the use of IGT donated iPads was accepted to study at the University of Trinidad and Tobago’s animation program, and the proud mother stated that he will be graduating in August.
Boodoo, also reiterated that intervention can help people move along the autism spectrum, by “teaching parents how to cope using various strategies, one thing doesn’t fix all. Parents should encourage and channel their child’s interest.”
Looking to the future, Boodoo shared her dream for Autism Place; she wished that they can offer respite and assisted living. In terms of technology, “having more technology that works hand in hand with individuals to help them communicate, as it allows for more independence and a way to express themselves.”
She added, “Society should be more accepting, for example when hiring persons with autism, employees need to think about the support and considerations involved and the language and communications differences.”
There are two centres one in D’Abadie and the other in Point Fortin. At the D’Abadie location there are approximately 50 – 60 clients that attend the centre throughout the week. The Point Fortin centre caters for approximately 30 part-time clients who attend four days a week.