Parents of autistic children share experiences amid COVID-19

THE COVID-19 pandemic is presenting some unusual challenges for Jamaican parents.

With the current local restrictions and social distancing rules, the parents of autistic children have unique concerns and needs. Some mothers have stepped up to share their experience of raising an autistic child during these COVID-19 times.

Zhane Shippy says her young son, Israel, can be quite a handful. She sees the current period as an opportunity to “step back from our daily lives” and look at interacting in a different way. Her son has discovered YouTube, she says, and loves the songs about hand-washing and sanitising.

“A lot of children are driving their parents nuts!” says Kathy Chang, co-founder of the Jamaica Autism Support Association.

Chang stressed that the association is ready to support parents who might need extra help during the COVID-19 period.

Francene Noel, mother to Zachary, a teenager, is dedicating her time during the stay-at-home period to work on her son’s life skills.

“Every day I have a new plan,” she says. “Zachary is now able to make his bed, and cook macaroni cheese,” adds Noel.

For her, autism awareness is about “accepting unique people… different people”.

Keisha Marr agrees that acceptance is critical, especially in combating stigma and discrimination. While her six-year-old son is missing going to school, she has revised his usual daily routines so that home life continues to flow smoothly.

Her son attends one of the 10 special needs schools built by the Digicel Foundation. Marr works at Digicel and commended the foundation for their work in special needs.

The Digicel Foundation has been working with teachers at these schools to stay in touch with students and assess the needs of the special needs community. In response to the pandemic, the foundation has been disbursing credit and devices to teachers and students in need to enable access to learning platforms.

Approximately 700 Jamaican children are diagnosed with the autism spectrum disorder every year. Boys are four to five times more likely to be affected than girls.

Kathy Chang noted that ‘A’ is for autism, but it’s also for awareness and, most importantly, acceptance, “because all these individuals with autism are different, but they’re not less”.

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