Interview with Edumark Magazine

Can you tell us about yourself?
I’m a mother of three, I read economics and was a banker with First City Merchant Bank from where I moved to Broad Bank where I worked for a short while, I was in my room one day, when the thought dropped in my spirit to start a centre for children with autism. I resigned and went on training for a year so as to equip myself. We actually started Patrick Speech Centre in 2005 but we opened our doors in 2006.

What is this Patrick Speech Centre all about?
The reason why Patrick Speech was set up is because I have a son who has traces of autism. The school runs from about 9am to 2.30pm daily with children ranging from two years to twenty seven years. The total capacity of the centre is forty. In the centre once we notice that a child has improved greatly we release him to go to a regular school. We also have an after school program that runs between 2pm and 4pm.

How has the journey been so far?
I’s been nice. We started with three children and the number has since increased to what we have today. A lot of people wonder why we don’t advertise but I’m of the opinion that if we do well, our work will advertise us. A lot of families bring their children to the centre, they come to us if they have challenges, we work with these families and advice them on what to do as the kids improve. It is interesting to see a child who came into the school and couldn’t talk but after enrolling in the school he develops the ability to talk gradually, you can’t quantify it. At the centre we use more of visual aids when teaching the children. We don’t teach in abstract, they have to see to learn.

What are the signs of autism in children?
The first thing you will notice is that the child is not talking at the right time. For example, a child is lying down and you say ‘Hello how are you?’, the child looks into your eyes but if it is a child with severe autism, he will not look into your eyes. He will just be staring at you. Even if you say ‘Look there is a bird in the sky’ the child does not follow your gaze i.e. looking from your hands then up into the sky. So these are the signs you can look out for. You might not necessarily trace it to autism but that child’s development is mentally delayed. For instance if you notice a child of about a year old who excludes himself while everybody is playing in a group, he stays in a corner or probably picks up the phone and instead of saying hello, he is only fascinated by the light coming up and going off. These are some of the traces you see. You see a delay in development such as lack of speech, lack of social skills, not being able to point, for instance there is something on the shelf and he needs it, he grabs an adults hand to point.

Are children with autism emotionally sensitive?
Children with special needs are very emotional just like every other person. They have their happy times and also have their sad times. They have their down times and their overly happy times. They have a shut down system when things are not going their way. So they feel the same other children feel. The only difference is that they might not be able to express it. Some of them have a high potency for pain. They can take pain at any level while some have a very low potency, by the time you touch them they start crying. If you move in their direction they become scared and withdraw. They are highly emotional and highly sensitive.