2019 Apr 2
“It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a child with autism to raise the consciousness of the village,” Coach Elaine Hall
The twelfth annual World Autism Awareness Day falls on the 2nd of April, today. Internationally on this day, buildings, homes and communities around the world display blue lights in recognition of people living with autism. Autism awareness has grown worldwide in recent years, but where does Sri Lanka stand?
This year, Sri Lankans too will be showing their support by illuminating landmark buildings in the sacred city of Kandy to raise awareness and show support to the cause. Awareness events are happening, and more.
Research carried out in the United States- the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that one in every 68 people globally, is autistic and 1 in 59 children has ASD.
According to a study conducted in Sri Lanka, statistics from 2004 indicated that one person in every 100 was autistic.
What is Autism – do you really know?
Autism or Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability diagnosed by deficits in social communication and social interaction, and the presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities that can persist throughout life.
The term “spectrum” refers to the wide variety of symptoms and severities within ASD. Remember, the condition is not the same for everyone; some may experience debilitating social problems while others may be able to function more independently.
We know that there is not one type of autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think, and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.
A child with autism may show signs of difficulty in communicating, both verbally and non-verbally.
ASD impacts all areas of a person’s life and how they cope in everyday situations. Although incredibly variable, some of the challenges that may be experienced by the person with ASD could include difficulty understanding what you say, difficulty with eye contact and other nonverbal body language such as gestures and facial expression, difficulty telling you what they want or need and difficulty making conversation.
Why is awareness important? Because early intervention can change a life.
Not all children with autism show all the signs. Many children who don’t have autism show a few. That’s why professional evaluation is crucial.
Raising awareness amongst the general population is necessary, so that parents know and understand that something called autism exists – and that help is always at hand.
According to the Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Sirimavo Bandaranaike Children’s Hospital, Peradeniya, Dr. Rasitha Perera, who spoke on behalf of the Daily Newspaper, early intervention can offer a child with autism the best chances of overcoming most of the severe implications. He stated that “we don’t intend to label the child, but in the event the child is autistic, detecting it early will give us the chance to stimulate the child’s brain in order to get the best result.”
Raising Awareness in Sri Lanka
As Sri Lankans, we still have a long way to go in accepting and understanding autism and other such disorders. Awareness is crucial and step by step, we are progressing.
On World Autism Day, significant buildings are to be lit up in blue in support of autism. Dr. Rasitha Perera stated, “This was not done in Sri Lanka previously, but for the first time in the country, we have taken the initiative to launch this programme in Kandy. Accordingly, we will light up to show the city’s commitment and support for those with autism. We have also initiated a media campaign to educate people on autism. The main programme was held on the 1st under the patronage of the Central Province Governor Niluka Ekanayake.”
As music has also been a successful tool for autism, music therapy is being used at Sirimavo Bandaranaike Children’s Hospital for treatment.
For the second time The Child Adolescent and Family Services (CAFS) Sri Lanka, a non-profit organisation which promotes better mental health, will launch an autism awareness campaign #ThinkBlue2019, in collaboration with THEME Institute at the Samanala Grounds in Galle on the 7 April from 4 pm onwards.
CAFS Founder Giselle Dass , a child and adolescent psychologist specialising in neurodevelopmental disorders, stated that while Sri Lanka had done relatively well in raising awareness about autism, there still remains a lack of understanding of what it entails. Her ultimate goal is to also move towards designing and implementing specialised workshops for schools and institutions to scale up their services so as to best facilitate the recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of autism.
Upon being questioned about the venue she said to The Morning, “We tried to pick a place that the general public would see and potentially come and interact, similar to what we did at Galle Face, where we had many walk-ins interact with some of our volunteers who were also trained and educated about autism to better communicate it to the masses”. The event itself will also include an information booth where the public can gain knowledge on autism and related mental health disorders from professionals, activities for children, food and beverage stalls, a photo booth, light entertainment, and a creative installation.
So this World Autism Awareness Day, get involved, take part, wear blue – the colour that symbolises autism – and spread the word.
Images courtesy of: CAFS Sri Lanka