Seychelles’ first autism centre opened on Friday to provide learning support and therapy for autistic children and adults.
The specialised autism centre at North East Point on the main island of Mahe is the culmination of work done since 2017 by the association of parents with children with autism now known as Autism Seychelles.
The chairperson of the association, Marie-Annette Ernesta, said that the centre is not entirely ready but it is a stepping stone to better things.
“The centre does not have much yet in terms of staff and facilities but it represents possibility; it represents everything that may happen in the future… This centre will help us inform Seychelles as a whole that this condition exists and that it is a serious one,” explained Ernesta.
The specialised autism centre is located at North East Point on the main island of Mahe. (Rassin Vannier, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a life-long developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people due to the abnormal development and functions of the brain. It has no single known cause and is more likely to affect boys than girls from all racial, ethnic and social groups.
The centre at North East Point currently has two employees and a representative from the Ministry of Education who does outreach work. For the moment, Dr Erna Athanasius and Irene Jumeau have acquired the tools to work with persons with autism through an American system that has been developed.
The facility will be used for two main purposes – as a learning centre for children on the autistic spectrum as well as provide them with therapy.
“It is also a place where parents and families who have an autistic relatives can come together and support each other,” said Ernesta.
There are no official statistics on the number of persons with autism in Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, although the United Nations has stated that in every country one percent of the population is on the spectrum.
Autism Seychelles is also working with Star Academy in South Africa – which runs a school for children on the autism spectrum – to establish a learning programme.
Ernesta said that this centre will help us inform Seychelles as a whole that this condition exists and that it is a serious one. (Rassin Vannier, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
“We are an association providing support for people who need it, as there are no proper channels available yet,” said Ernesta.
The association has also worked to sign an agreement with the Ministry of Education which will facilitate its access to government funding as well as allow teachers to come to the centre.
“We are not establishing a school that will move children from where they are currently, because inclusivity is important,” said Ernesta.
When detailing the history to open the centre, the association’s vice-chairperson, Lyn Lavigne, said it was the Seychelles’ former Vice-President Vincent Meriton who made the opening of the centre possible.
The government gifted the association the building, which was previously a daycare centre belonging to the National Council for the Disabled.
“When we got the building, it was a squatters’ spot and it was dilapidated,” Ernesta told reporters.
Over the years, members of Autism Seychelles cleaned and renovated the place.