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Let’s step up autism sensitization, outreach and support

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We are into April, World Autism Month and last Sunday, April 2 was World Autism Awareness Day, a day when autism organizations around the world celebrated with unique fund-raising and awareness-raising events.

It is unclear if any special activity took place here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), but there is a fledgling organization here, the SVG Autism Society (SAS) that was formed a few years ago with the objective of formalizing autism sensitization, outreach and support mechanisms for persons and families living with autism.

With approximately 1,800 children being born in SVG each year, it is estimated, based on international statistics that about 18 of these may be autistic.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. It is now known that there is not one autism, but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.

The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.

Although people living with autism have always been with us, the term “autism” is relatively new, having come into popular use in the 1990s.

In SVG there is greater awareness of autism than there was a few years ago. This awareness has translated into more knowledge as to how to interact with persons on the autism spectrum in the education system and in society in general. Nevertheless, the spectrum is still largely misunderstood by the public and by the very families who have received a diagnosis.

There is, therefore, a great deal more which must be done if people living on the spectrum are to achieve their full potential and become fully accepted and integrated into society.

SAS, the autism advocacy group, which has been relatively quiet, is therefore called on to step up its advocacy, awareness building activities and provision of support resources for families.

But seeking greater understanding of autism and working for an improved societal response is not the sole responsibility of special interest groups like SAS. People living with autism and other developmental disorders and their families need the support and active participation of the entire community, if any progress is to be achieved.

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