April is designated international Autism awareness month and as part of its observance each education district has planned programmes to observe and to bring light to the reality that many children in Guyana are challenged with autism spectrum disorder.
Today the Essequibo islands, hosted a forum at the Vreed-en-Hoop primary school to bring about awareness of the realities that about one in every 68 children is autistic in Guyana.
The public awareness is collaborative effort between the Special Education Needs Unit (SEN) and the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD) and the department of education, Essequibo Islands.
Ms Akeshia Benjamin, Education officer (SEN) Essequibo Islands said autism awareness is very important as it helps to become aware if signs and symptoms and how to treat with such persons to avoid discrimination and mental illness. “It is a category of disability however, while it has been on the back burner for quite some time, efforts are in train to make it a front burner issue as autistic children are also important and should not be seen as less than any child. This is because children with special needs also deserve a chance to realise their true and full potential through the education sector.”
In addition to the Autism awareness forum other activities planned for the region include: A Parent Teachers Association awareness and staff development sessions while Brochures and flyers have also been prepared and distributed to the public.
As is, the Ministry via each educational district has officers engaged in a process of assessing and identifying children with all other forms of disability including autism.
Following the assessment we are able to not only identify but fashion programmes to support those with special needs.
Autism is one of a group of serious developmental problems called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
ASD is a diagnosis that describes significant social, communicative and behavioural challenges which appear in early childhood (usually before 3 years old).
People with autism handle information in their brain differently from typical developing peers.
Ms Anesta Douglas, regional education officer of region three expressed gratitude for the forum that offers awareness about children in region three who are autistic.
“I encourage all persons to embrace persons with autism so that they can realise their full potential and destiny”.
Ms. Audrey Rodrigues in her remarks from the office of UNICEF Guyana and Suriname reminded that her organisation which advocates for children’s rights noted that education access is for every child. “Every child is a child no matter what and we are making sure that every child has and continues to be catered for through empowering of women and girls with autism everywhere.”
Citing a monologue that offered information about the progressive symptoms of Autism she said “There are many types of Autism and should we find ourselves in the presence of an autistic person …I submit that we must rethink how we treat with them and be less judgmental…stop diagnosing by yourselves and seek the much needed professionals to assist,” Ms Rodrigues said.
She encouraged the need for education to remove the poverty of loneliness and disrespect etc to empower women to advance humanity. “Women need to look for the early signs to treat with the disorder so that we can practice inclusiveness and have facilities for access for Education.
If we can have nursery school teachers more involved …empowerment and support is necessary. Educating everyone could be a deterrent to stigma related to autism and we must not let awareness be only for today but for always.”
As part of the presentations Mr. Keon Cheong, education officer two offered an over view of and Constraints associated with treating and caring for autistic children among others.