My first experience with autism happened about three years ago. One of my Livejournal friends had a son with autism (past tense there because I don’t visit LJ so much any more, not an negation of the continued existence of her awesome son). I’m not so sure that counts as an ‘experience’ but it was the first time I ever paid any real attention to autism or the whole spectrum of Asperger’s disorders.
Autism is a developmental disability that generally appears before the child is 24 months of age. Children show delays or regression in speech, social skills and physical abilities. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls. Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe.
Autism in Jamaica today remains seriously under-diagnosed. These children are labelled as ‘slow’ or ‘dunce’, they’re stigmatized (or at worst, abused) but most of all they are denied the care they need. Like the rest of the world, we are waking up to autism as a very real, very present condition, but we are moving so slowly. As a future physician, sharing my knowledge is as important to me as gaining it. The more people who know about autism, the more these children can get the help they need to live the lives they deserve.
People like Sheena Marie Francis (who recently completed a study on the needs of autistic children in Jamaica) and the folks who run the Jamaica Autism Support Association are doing their part to raise awareness of and give support to people with and parents of children with Asperger’s Spectrum Disorders.
Tuesday was World Autism Awareness Day, and the JASA had a blue-light vigil on Sunday and Monday nights to spread the word. Of course being on the other side of the island, I had no way of knowing these things because they take place in and around Kingston.
Spread the word. Autistic kids have a voice, too.