The Autistic Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT) has designated April autism awareness month, and is calling on the Government to place more emphasis on providing for children with the hidden disability of autism.According to ASTT, the Government and society as a whole must understand that children and adults with autism may not be in a wheelchair, or may not need a life-saving operation. However, they face discrimination and stigma. Autism Spectrum Disorders are neurological in nature, and can be considered hidden disabilities.People with autism must have the right to full participation in society, and they must be respected for their differences. Behavioural signs and symptoms are used for diagnosis. It is important for everyone to be aware of the early signs so that treatment can be sought as soon as possible.
Early signs which may indicate that a child is at risk for autism:
At six months:
• Rarely makes eye contact when interacting with others.
At nine months:
• No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions.
• No response to peek-a-boo games.
• Little babbling.
At 12 months:
• No back-and-forth gestures eg pointing, showing, reaching or waving.
• Repetitive body motions such as rocking or hand flapping.
• No response when name is called.
At 16 months:
• Few words
At 24 months:
• No two-word meaningful phrases.
• Avoids or ignores other children when they approach.
• No social skills
People with autism who can speak may also have communication problems. They need help getting suitable assistive communication devices. They all have socialising problems, and have great difficulty understanding people and the world around them. They have varying degrees of sensory problems and behavioural issues.Autism treatment is very costly as specific therapies and educational strategies must be used consistently.
Children with autism need access to affordable:
• Early, expert screening/assessment
• Appropriate educational opportunities
• ­Special therapies eg occupational, speech, music, art, drama
• Life skill training/vocational training
• Tertiary level education opportunities
• Appropriate job opportunities
United Nation's Secretary-General'sMessage for 2011
The number of children and people with autistic conditions continues to rise-in every nation and in every racial, ethnic and social group. Although the recognition of autistic conditions among the scientific, health and care communities is improving, public awareness remains low. The annual observance of World Autism Awareness Day thus takes on ever greater importance as an opportunity to mobilise for action and assistance.Children and people with autistic conditions face major challenges associated with stigma and discrimination, as well as a lack of access to support. Many struggle with multiple barriers in their daily lives. Far too many suffer terrible discrimination, abuse and isolation in violation of their fundamental human rights.
Autism is a complex disorder. But in many cases the right treatment early on can bring improvements. That is why it is so important to raise awareness about the signs of autism and provide services as soon as possible.It is also critical to support parents, create jobs for individuals with autism based on their skills and strengths, and improve public education to better meet the needs of students with autism.Taking these steps will benefit society as a whole, enriching people with autism, their loved ones and others alike. As the mother of one child with autism said, "Although my daughter has walked a long way, I have walked a longer way."Together, let us travel this road toward a more caring and inclusive world.
For more information, contact Teresina Sieunarine, president, ASTT, at 646-5506, or e-mail: [email protected]