The 02ndApril is the World Remembrance Day for Autism. On this day, international landmarks are lit up in blue, an initiative of Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org). Autism, or the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication. The root cause is still being investigated and we know
Under the Special Educational Needs Authority Act, recently implemented by the Ministry of Education, there are Special Education Needs Resource and Development Centres (SENRDCs) since the 2010. Today, each zone has at least one SENRDC that are equipped with professionals such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, and psychologists.
Today, we would like to highlight the work being undertaken by SEDAM which stands for “Service d'Evaluation et de Diagnostique de l'Autisme à Maurice”, registered NGO co-founded by late Mrs. Geraldine Aliphon. Alteo, through its CSR, partly funds this diagnostic centre together with Fondation Ciel.
In 2020, 66 children are under the care of SEDAM with 45 children still undergoing diagnosis phase, 13 children have been received their diagnosis and evaluation report and 8 children who have been referred to other professionals since they are not autistic. Cases are referred to by the network of NGOs and the hospitals. Welkin Clinic has a dedicated space for enabling a correct ‘prise en charge’ of children and families. SEDAM also organises 4 workshops with parents and children on a yearly basis.
The current pandemic has severely affected the project and the occupational therapist working for the NGO is still under maternity leave. Furthermore, the challenge remains the onboarding of professionals of this sphere due to relatively low perceived salaries.
Autism Day celebrated on the 2nd of April, should not be focused on awareness (which measures neurotypicals against neurodivergent), but rather the acceptance of neurodivergent as an integral and valued part of our society.
No matter who we are, no matter what our strengths, weaknesses, or quirks, every one of us was born with the same right to exist in this world. Every one of us desires respect and acceptance for who we are.
So do not spend this Autism Day merely acknowledging Autism, for that changes no one's life. Rather, let us, as a society, spend it thinking how to initiate inclusion of all abilities. These small steps of action will parallel giant strides towards Autism acceptance and respect, changing lives immeasurably.
What can we do if we wish to learn more or contribute?
- Blue is the colour chosen for celebrating Autism and let’s wear blue on the 02nd of April and whenever we feel like throughout the month of April
- The United Nations is organising a virtual seminar on the 08th April and you may register yourself on the following link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdCe1tiFE7QlebOFoN97jT3okXKM6ZzDT13ZzxWTh6w8WekJQ/viewform
Note from Mithesh Soobarah, Occupational Therapist in Mauritius
The journey of a parent having a child with ASD is not always easy; the most challenging phase for a parent is to accept the fact that his/her child has ASD. This becomes complicated as unlike other disabilities which may be determined from birth or during pregnancy, a child with ASD throughout the first years will have a milestone more or developmental more or less similar to a “normal” child which never raises the doubt for an ASD diagnosis.
The diagnostic features of ASD can be easy to miss in young children. However around 2-3 years old, a parent or the doctor will start spotting the red flags of a child at risk for ASD. This remains a crucial period as often parents would be in a denial state, looking for opinions from other professionals and hence, escaping from the fact that the child has ASD. However, as a professional working with children with special needs, I would like to emphasize that the earlier you accept your child has ASD and start the recommended therapies, the better it is first of all for you, as a parent and secondly, for the child. Your mental and emotional state affects the well-being of your child despite you may feel that he/she does not understand what is happening. The child cannot express herself/himself as expected and this may results in them having temper tantrums or other behavioural issues.
Till now a there has been a lot of improvement in Mauritius, such as setup of diagnostic centres, training for educators to work with these children, specialised schools and the Government also is striving to work towards the demands of the children and their parents. However, we are still lacking behind when we compare ourselves to other countries. Our children are being catered for young age, but what about when they will become adults; there are no “vocational centres” or appropriate setup for them. I believe there is still a lack of knowledge or awareness on ASD in the society which is hindering our children to be included in the society and schools.
Let us be hopeful, one day “there will be light at the end of the tunnel” and things will get near to the perfection for our children with ASD and the parents…. Our stakeholders must not forget to involve the parents in the decision making as “Nothing about us without us” they are the ones who understand their situations and needs more than anyone else!
To end with, I would like to applaud all the parents having a child with ASD for all the patience, love and care they provide to their child .