KINGSTON — Families affected by autism will, over the next two days, have the opportunity to learn from experts and access resources to assist their loved ones with the condition, during 'Autism Splash'.
The event, which got underway yesterday at Emancipation Park in Kingston, is hosted by the Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation, through donation of $1,137,810 (CDN$13,386) from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
It seeks to raise awareness of the disorder by offering free information and diagnosis, and to begin to create a database of autistic persons in Jamaica that can be used to lobby the government for greater intervention.
Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Stephen Hallihan, said Autism Splash represents the launch of a campaign aimed at providing assistance for those Jamaicans that are affected by autism and their families “because we know a lot about the condition, but there is much more we don’t know."
High Commissioner Hallihan likened the condition to a "riddle wrapped in a puzzle," which is "a tremendously hard one for families and individuals that are touched by this condition."
"That's why we are so happy to support this programme, which is going to help parents with their diagnosis. It is going to give them access to support and resources and most importantly, it’s going to give them some hope and a support network that they can draw on for the future,” he said.
The Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) is one of the sponsors of Autism Splash, and Chief Executive Officer, Al Powel, said the agency is willing to support the cause by offering to anyone with autism, an opportunity for a better livelihood through its Home Economic Social Services Unit.
"Those persons who are affected, we can always visit their house, we can put in place programmes that can help them,” he stated.
Mr. Powell said the Autism Splash is important in highlighting “a very serious (condition),” which affects one in every 166 children in the United States and continues to grow.
He noted, however, that the diagnosis of autism is not a reason for despair, as many “great minds, great innovators, great people like (Albert) Einstein, who revolutionised the whole concept of physics; Thomas Edison, a great inventor; composer (Ludwig van)Beethoven and several others had symptoms (of autism) and they came out to lead the world in the vocation that they chose to pursue."
"So, someone having symptoms, we are supposed to give them support, we are not to stay away from them, we are to empower them,” he added.
Managing Director of the Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation, Maia Chung-Smith, expressed her gratitude to the individuals and organisations that have provided support for the event, noting that it would make a difference, “if we can intervene in the thousands of cases (of autism) that are here undocumented” and unearth brilliant minds.
She noted that it was through receiving proper intervention that her autistic son will be sitting the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) next year. “It is our job, in every area and sector of this nation to do what we can for whom we can,” she stated.
Throughout the two-day event, a team of specialists, including an autism expert, a psychiatrist and special educator, will be on hand to provide free diagnosis to families dealing with autism.
Information will also be disseminated through various small group discussions, free therapy will be provided for coping and living with autism, and free resource material on the condition will be provided by organisations and agencies.
The Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation was established in April 2008 to work with families, who are directly or indirectly affected by autism. The aim is to offer an avenue by which persons can access information and resources and develop strategies of care for persons living with the condition.
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterised by impaired social interaction and communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviour. These signs all begin before a child is three years old.
By Alecia Smith-Edwards, JIS Reporter