World Autism Day 2019
April 2 is recognized internationally as World Autism Day. The Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender relations and Sustainable Development is pleased to join the international community in recognizing this day to raise awareness of people affected by this disorder.
Persons with autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience challenges in three (3) main areas:
• Impaired social skills, such
• Repetitive behaviours, such as hand flapping, rocking and
such as delayed speech and language for imaginative play
Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a unique profile of strengths and needs and autism has varied levels of severity. Autism is also often accompanied by an array of other complications such as sensitivity to sensory stimulation, digestive irregularities and medical issues. It must also be noted that some individuals have co-occurring diagnoses i.e. affected by multiple disorders, including autism.
The ministry is aware that a number of learners in the education system are on the autism spectrum, and it plays an increasing role in supporting the educational needs of these non-typical learners. The Special Education Unit of the ministry collaborates with various governmental and non-governmental agencies, such as the Community Child Health Service and the Child Development and Guidance Centre, to assess and identify cases of autism.
Having identified these learners with ASD, the ministry provides a range of learning placement options dependant on the assessed severity of autism and the education needs of the individual. Some students with ASD have a high level of intellectual functioning. These learners access the national curriculum at mainstream schools, but are permitted to have a personal aide to provide affected by autism access learning at special schools where the learning environment is more adequately adapted to their educational and functional needs. At special schools, in addition to accessing their capacity of academic content,
students learn practical skills,
some directed at achieving independence, while others
skills taught have employment
Worldwide, autism is one of the fastest growing disorders in prevalence. In the last two decades there have been more than a 600% increase in autism cases in the United States, with the US Center for Disease likely inaccurate due to a lag in reporting. In Saint Lucia, an estimated 253 identified cases some years ago was thought to be an underestimation at the
time, and likely did not include
older persons in the population.
With its thrust towards Education for All, the ministry is committed to intentionally supporting students with special educational needs. Among the special school population in Saint Lucia, there are approximately 55 students diagnosed as being on the
autism spectrum. Of these,
the highest concentration is at Dunnottar School, which currently has three classes specifically serving children on the spectrum. This commitment has led to development and implementation of the Education Quality Improvement Project (EQUIP) which is highly focused on enhancing and supporting special educational needs in Saint Lucia. The EQUIP aims to support the sector through a number of interventions including:
1. Curriculum review with a focus on special education integration
2. Development of a special need policy
3. Provision of assistive devices for children with special needs
4. Provision of direct in-service and degree level training for educators within the sector. Training will also be extended to the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College’s Division of Teacher Education and Educational Administration to augment the competence of teacher educators to be better equipped in preparing our teachers to support children with special needs.
Of equal importance
to the Ministry of Education is ensuring that our special needs children are catered to in appropriate and adequate learning environments. Thus, EQUIP, and a new project currently at the development
stage, will be undertaking
reconstruction of the Dunnattor and Vieux Fort Special Education Centres. These centres will be equipped with new technologies and supporting infrastructure to be better able to cater for our most vulnerable.
Our reality in Saint
Lucia is that we can benefit significantly from improvements in awareness and resources needed to effectively cater to children with autism. Many persons are unaware or poorly informed about the disorder, its presenting characteristics and how to appropriately interact with individuals affected by it. Sadly, many persons with autism in Saint Lucia are still subject to micro-aggression such as bullying and namecalling.
The ministry is committed to redoubling its efforts to improve the community for rhe autism spectrum. We believe that through education and training, learners with autism can gain sufficient independence for selfmanagement and gainful employment. The ministry resolved in our commitment to preparing these individuals and all other learners to become productive 21st century
The education ministry pledges it’s support to students who suffer with autism.