World Autism Day 2019

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - As re­duced in­ter­est in oth­ers and lim­ited eye con­tact re­sis­tance to change sup­port ser­vices such as po­ten­tial dis­rup­tions to learn­ing for the rest of the stu­dent body. Con­trol (CDC) ad­mit­ting that re­ported sur­vey fig­ures are

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

Disor­dered com­mu­ni­ca­tion,

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

po­ten­tial.

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.

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