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The special visit was organised by Logos Hope’s advance preparation team for Port of Spain and Tracy Hutchinson Wallace, founder of Trinidad and Tobago’s autism support group, Autistic Spirit. Before opening the Visitor Experience Deck to the children, book fair manager David Waugh (UK) met with his staff and other ship volunteers to explain how the book fair and International Café had been transformed into an autism-friendly environment: intercom announcements had been silenced, television screens and music had been turned off, and the lifeboat seating area had been darkened to provide a quiet space for parents and children needing a break from stimuli.
“I’ve just come off the phone with my son’s school,” Tracy told the volunteers. “They are planning to come, and there is one boy who is literally in tears because he is so excited. He has been in love with reading and books his entire life, but this is the first time he has ever had the opportunity to go to a bookstore.”
Crewmembers were excited to see the schoolchildren’s interests met as they walked around the Visitor Experience Deck. One boy, who was fascinated by different cultures, recognised Papua New Guinea’s flag immediately when Daniella Laxabul (Papua New Guinea) showed it and asked the children, “What country am I from?” during a cultural presentation in the Small Theatre.
Another child, who loves to read about the similarities and differences of the world’s religions, was thrilled to find a book in the book fair which compares religions side-by-side.
Many of the visitors would not have been able to cope with the crowds or the visual and auditory stimuli, had they come during the book fair’s normal opening hours. The autism-friendly environment created by the volunteers allowed them to experience Logos Hope for themselves, without other distractions getting in the way.
Published: Tuesday, 24 January 2017
Credit: Rebecca Gaasrud