South Asian Autism Awareness Centre Grand Opening
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kingston Yogendran
Toronto, Ontario – Make do with what you have – this is a reality that binds all grassroots initiatives looking to make meaningful changes in the world, but are limited by inadequate resources. For the past five years the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre (SAAAC) made do with donated spaces throughout the GTA as they looked to support individuals and families living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
On July 10, SAAAC will finally put down permanent roots in the community it has served since 2008. A 5000 square foot facility will house a variety of therapies and programming, and will serve over 100 families in various capacities. The event will be the culmination of years of intense community effort and resolve that promoted a culturally sensitive and cost effective treatment model that took into consideration the challenges of language, low income and cultural stigmas.
Initiated in 2008, SAAAC began as a response to the silence, shame and stigma associated with developmental disability in the South Asian community. “It was heartbreaking to see,” says Geetha Moorthy, founder and executive director of SAAAC.”We came across countless families who were ashamed to bring their children out in public. Most of these parents did not have adequate fluency in English and did not know how to navigate the mental health system. They did not know who to turn to for help. They kept their troubles to themselves, suffering in silence.”
The organization began as a series of seminars that touched on various issues surrounding ASD. Held in community centres and libraries across Toronto’s east end, the seminars took into consideration the barriers of language and cultural values, helping to translate difficult concepts and addressing cultural stigmas and misinformation. Soon afterwards, SAAAC began to create basic programming that engaged children with ASD.
“I remember when the only space available for SAAAC was the neighborhood park,” states Ravi, a proud father of an energetic 7 year old boy with ASD. “I use to bring my son to weekly play sessions and there would be 5-6 other families. We all played team games trying to help the kids develop social and communication skills.” Over the next four years Ravi and his son would participate in a growing list of SAAAC programs and services that included behaviour management, speech therapy, music therapy and visual arts programming- all of which took place in a variety of different environments from recreational centres to the basements of faith institutions. “This journey has been important for us,”says Ravi reflecting. “I remember when my son wouldn’t say a word and would throw horrible tantrums. He wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone and would seem so disconnected from everything around him. I didn’t know how to handle him. But through a lot of hard work and support, he is able to now communicate and socialize with people around him. He seems to be connected to the world, and that is the greatest success.”
Since 2008, SAAAC has grown into a multi-disciplinary organization including physicians, behavioural therapists, speech therapists, dance/music therapists and social workers. Using a task shifting model, SAAAC has been able to utilize autism experts and health professionals to train and supervise members of the community in the provision of individualized, cost effective, one-on-one care for children and youth with ASD. The basis for this growth has been an engaged community.
“I really do believe we are a special organization,” says Geetha. “Not because of the treatments or services we provide, but because of the people who make up SAAAC. We have amazing parents who help other parents; we have passionate young people looking to help children with autism; we have local businesses and community members supporting us any way they can. We have come a long way – from a time when no one knew about autism and the deep scars it left in our community, to everyone supporting each other in order to see these children and parents succeed. We truly are a community organization in every sense of the word.”