Under the clear blue skies of Brownes Beach, the Barbados Council for the Disabled celebrated World Autism Awareness Day yesterday.
Following the slogan, Light it Up Blue, children and parents alike could be seen frolicking in clear blue waters along the island’s southern shores.
Organised by the More to Say program and the Barbados Council for the Disabled, the family fun day was initially conceptualised by concerned grandparent Michael Broomes.
“I find in Barbados that everybody kinds of hide the kids, so what I wanted to do was get them in an environment where everybody can organise and relax. Another reason I chose here is so we can have facilitation between families, like you go town and I can keep your child and stuff like that,” explained the grandfather of an autistic five-year-old.
Speech language pathologist and member of More to Say, Sue McMillian, pointed out that while they intended for the families to have fun, they also sought to educate the general public on the nature of autism.
“What we want to do as a group today is to have the public of Barbados see families and children with autism just out like regular kids and families and having a wonderful day together, and to start to change the perception that children with autism are ‘hard ears’ and that they are children who just want to get out and have a great time.
“Yes they have some challenges, their brain functions in a different way [and] causes their reactions to be different from neuro-typical children, but at the end of the day they love to laugh, [and] they love to run and play,” said McMillian.
Having practiced in Barbados for seven years, McMillian argued that there was room for improvement in the services offered to those suffering from autism.
She said, “The knowledge base and the number of people providing services for families with autism has been increasing. You have some incredibly gifted people here on the island who are working in the field of autism, but still there is a huge need for more services.”
Suzette Griffith who has a five-year-old with autism, was thankful for the opportunity given by the Council for her son to play freely like the average child.
She also expressed her wish for the general public to exercise tolerance and understanding to not only autistic children, but those suffering from different disabilities.
“These kids with autism, when you see them throwing a tantrum or behaving a certain way, don’t be like ‘oh that child needs training or that child deserves a lash’, come to the parent and say what do you need and how can I help you.
“And to these parents with special needs, not only autism, embrace your child, don’t be embarrassed by your child, don’t be afraid to bring your child out. Show off your child – they are just as good as the average child,” Griffith maintained.
Parent Sonia Nanton added, “They are not normal kids but you have to be more tolerant and patient with them.”