Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bahamas: ...the challenges facing children and adults who have been diagnosed with autism

Early diagnosis and treatment is key to addressing autism


APRIL is National Autism Awareness Month, which provides a special opportunity for individuals across the Bahamas to raise awareness in their neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools and local communities about the challenges facing children and adults who have been diagnosed with autism.

Autism affects one in every 110 children and one in every 70 boys, yet the cause remains unknown.

Signs and symptoms typically appear during the first three years of life and relate to language, social behavior, and behaviors concerning objects and routines.

Last August, I invited actress, author, and international autism activist Holly Robinson-Peete, and her husband former NFL quarterback, Rodney Peete, to an event at my residence to share their personal experiences raising their autistic son RJ, and the impact of his diagnosis on the entire family. The US Embassy partnered with the Resources and Education for Autism and Related Challenges (REACH) organization on the event that brought together Bahamian families with Autistic children and leading Bahamian autism experts and specialists for a discussion on this critical issue.

Holly and Rodney spoke candidly about raising an autistic child and their search for reliable information and the best treatments.

Although this was the Peete family's first autism outreach event outside of the United States, their message to Bahamian parents remained the same: "Get out of denial quickly, arm yourself with information, keep an open mind and stay proactive, hopeful, and prayerful. Above all, focus on your child's gifts, not on their limitations."

Through the Peete family's experience it became clear that early diagnosis and intensive intervention can have a profound impact on the lives of children and adults who have been diagnosed with autism.

Treatments have been developed in recent years that make it possible for nearly half the children who are diagnosed early with autism to eliminate the need for special education.

If children receive intervention treatment before the age of four, many of them go on to live productive lives comparable to those without a developmental disability.

Therefore, it is critically important to identify those children who are at-risk in order to reduce the time between symptom appearance and formal diagnosis and treatment.

I applaud REACH for providing a support system for parents with children affected by autism, for their efforts in April as well as throughout the year to raise awareness about autism and for arming parents with critical information on innovative treatment opportunities in the Bahamas and the United States.

As autism awareness increases throughout the Bahamas, parents, caregivers and educators are more likely to identify the early signs of autism and seek available treatment.

Raising awareness about autism will also encourage educators in the Bahamas to identify new approaches to ensure that students with developmental challenges have the opportunity to excel in an inclusive classroom, particularly on the Family Islands where special therapies and treatments may be out of reach.

Thursday, April 14, 2011