JIS: Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid, Minister of Education, Youth and Information, is looking to work more closely with the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA) to better address the needs of children with autism.

“I want to invite you at your earliest convenience to have a sit down to examine how the great work of JASA can be enhanced through greater twinning with the mandate and work of the Ministry. I believe that all our children deserve an equal opportunity to learn,” he said.

The Minister was speaking at the JASA’s annual ‘Light it up Blue’ autism awareness forum held recently, at the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Mona campus in St. Andrew.

The forum, under the theme: ‘Inclusivity of children with special needs within the Education Sector,’ featured presentations on the autism spectrum of disorders by Development and Behavioural Paediatrician, Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan.

This was followed by a lecture on ‘Inclusivity in the Classroom’ by Exceptional Needs Coordinator at Liberty Academy at the Priory, Toni-Ann Tucker.

Co-Founder of JASA, Kathy Chang, told JIS News that the inclusion of children with autism is important for their proper development.

“It is important to mainstream our children, who can be mainstreamed in order to give them as much of a normal life as possible. The higher functioning children will model the normal children so it is quite important. We want them to utilise their potential,” she contended.

Autism is a complex developmental brain disorder, which is characterised by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviours.

As part of the forum, the UWI’s administration building was lit up in blue to raise greater awareness and support for autism on the campus.

The UWI Choral handed over  $100,000 to the JASA to support its activities, while Chancellor Hall’s Block X donated approximately $35,000.

The public awareness forum, in observation of Autism Month in April, was supported by the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF), Digicel Foundation, among other entities.

JASA is comprised of parents of children on the autism spectrum, who come together to share information, resources, feedback and support.