is World Autism Awareness Day, designated by the United Nations to highlight autism as a growing epidemic, to
promote early diagnosis and intervention and to build support for those with
this complex neurological disorder.
prevalence of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade and globally some
67 million people are affected. More children will be diagnosed with autism
this year than with diabetes, cancer and AIDS combined. In the United States
the latest statistics showed such a marked increase in autistic children, that
it prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to call autism a
national public health crisis. In the United Kingdom, the National Autistic
Society estimates that more than half a million people have some form of
We have no
scientific data on autism in the Cayman Islands, but we know that autism is present
here too. And while much still needs to be done in countering this syndrome, I
am glad to report that our Health Services Authority is already actively
pursuing a national protocol for screening and referral. This will form the
base for a multi-year study to determine local prevalence and track the effectiveness
HSA has also started an awareness campaign among public health nurses,
paediatricians and private medical professionals, led by its in-house speech
and language pathologist. Also, the Education Department’s Early Intervention
Programme focuses on increasing autism awareness among pre-school staff.This is
further supported by private sector efforts from the Wellness Centre and the
Special Needs Foundation.
all this must go hand-in-hand with a greater public awareness. We need
preschool teachers, parents, family and friends to be aware of autism’s early
signs; we must ensure that a concerned parent has access to trained screeners
and that early assessments are available to all children.
are dealing with a syndrome with an unknown cause and no known cure. As such,
the urgency of this awareness drive is clear. Our only recourse is to build
knowledge, and offer professional help and personal support to those living
with autism. Without it, autism can be debilitating, robbing children of even
the simple prospect of living an independent life one day.
parents, daily life with an autistic child presents many unique challenges.
Apart from juggling the need for hours of therapy with everyday demands,
parents feel the stress of living with a child who struggles to communicate
life’s basic needs and emotions — hunger, fatigue, sadness or happiness. Unfortunately,
many parents have to take on this struggle alone as talking openly about autism
is still largely a taboo in Cayman society simply because people misunderstand
the causes. But, autistic children and their parents need our help and
as we observe World Autism Awareness Day, let us live up to its slogan of
Compassion, Inclusion, Hope.
about autism, talk about it and educate your children so they can treat autistic
classmates with kindness and empathy. Because, as a mother with an
autistic child once said: “We should not be mourning for an imperfect child,
but for an imperfect world. They are a gift. So we just need to find the skills
to get them through this imperfect world.”