Autism Society advocates for better coverage

The Autism Society launched Monday night at Camana Bay. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER

Premier Alden McLaughlin threw his weight behind a new society set up to support families impacted by autism, during a launch event at Camana Bay Monday night.

The Autism Society aims to advocate for better insurance coverage and community support to fund therapies and other interventions for children with the condition.

The society launched Monday night with a screening of the Oscar-winning documentary “Life Animated” at Camana Bay. The movie charts the coming of age of a young man, who overcame severe autism by using his love of Disney movies to learn to communicate and live an independent life.

Speaking at a launch event at Abacus restaurant following the movie, Mr. McLaughlin said the story had helped him understand the core of the issue.

“The movie brought home to me in a way I don’t think anything else could have, just how great the possibilities are when there is the necessary resources, support and love for people who have autism, and how they can become an integral part of our society and be contributing citizens and to have meaningful lives,” he said.

Those comments drew applause from the assembled parents, teachers, therapists and advocates for the cause of those impacted by a condition they believe is often misunderstood and misrepresented.

Morne Botes, one of the founding members of the new organization, said the group wants to raise awareness of the potential of children with autism to live meaningful, independent lives if they get the right intervention and support early in life.

Mr. Botes, whose own son Carter is autistic, said the scale of the treatment and therapies required was unmanageable for most families without support. Most insurers in Cayman still do not cover the full range of therapies for autistic children. He said the professional support network on the island was very good, but many cannot afford to access it.

“We’re lucky because we have the means to give our son the support he needs but many families are not so fortunate, and we want to do what we can to provide the advocacy, financial and community support to help them.”

Shirlene Thames, another board member and the parent of an autistic child, said many families were struggling to meet the cost of providing their children with the therapy they need.

She said the board had a lot of work to do.

“We’re looking forward to working together to bring awareness, advocate and see how we can best help the kids, help the island and bring about some changes that we need.

“A lot of what we struggle with is access to therapies. Early intervention is crucial.”

On day one, the society appears to have achieved at least one of its aims – getting their message in the ears of those in power. Mr. McLaughlin said his presence, along with Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and counselor Barbara Conolly was a sign that government was listening.

“How fortunate we are to have people like you who are willing to step forward and actually put together and contribute to an organization that will actually lobby for the new legislation, and resources and also work to create better public awareness and education of this issue,” the premier said.