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  • The Ministry of Education is taking steps to facilitate the diagnosis of autism at the early childhood level, and to apply the appropriate responses.

The Ministry of Education is taking steps to facilitate the diagnosis of autism at the early childhood level, and to apply the appropriate responses.

“We have, in conjunction with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), reformed and reopened the Voluntary Organization for the Upliftment of Children (VOUCH) centre at West Race Course, in Kingston, with a particular focus on the diagnosis of the disease in the early childhood cohort. A similar facility is expected to be opened in Savanna-la-Mar, by January 2016,” says Minister of Education, Hon. Rev. Ronald Thwaites.

He pointed out that  the centres will supplement work currently underway in Kingston; May Pen, Clarendon; Mandeville, Manchester; Montego Bay, St. James;

St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann and Port Antonio, in Portland.

Rev. Thwaites was speaking at the launch of the Maia Chung Autism and Disability Foundation Scholarship Fund, held at the Ministry of Education premises, in Kingston, on August 26.

“The Ministry of Education treats special education as a priority area. The general subject is of great significance, because our anecdotal and some statistical evidence indicate that 20 to 25 per cent of our children fall somewhere on the spectrum of exceptionality and need special care,” he informed.

The Minister commended the work of the Foundation, adding that their help in  increasing awareness of the condition is an important step in improving the national response.

“We are anxious to improve our facilities in this regard and we support entirely the effort that you are making in offering this scholarship,” he said.

The Maia Chung Autism Scholarship Programme aims to give financial assistance to a Jamaican family that has a loved one with the disorder. The scholarship, which is valued at $40,000, will assist in the education, training and therapeutic needs of the recipient.

This endowment is endorsed by the Ministry and will be promoted through its network of educators. The scholarship is open to basic, primary, secondary and tertiary students as well as persons who are enrolled in a HEART Trust/NTA programme who are diagnosed with autism and are educable and trainable and are from families that have significant financial challenges.

The first allocation of the sum will go to a basic school student at the end of September 2015.

Founder of the Autism and Disabilities Foundation, Maia Chung, said the initiative aims to heighten the awareness of the disorder and promote positive actions for the growth and development of children with autism.

“We believe that joining with the Ministry of Education will allow us to get educators on board. This will not only help persons who need the intervention, but we will have the assistance of the educators themselves, who will act as a tier of identifiers and help in making up numbers to spread awareness about autism,” she explained.

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.  Manifestation of the disorder  is difficulty with verbal and non verbal communication.

Both children and adults are affected by the disorder, which typically appears during the first three years of a child’s life.