Seychelles’ association raises awareness during autism month
(Seychelles News Agency) - The clock tower in the Seychelles' capital is bathed in blue this month as a way to raise awareness about the medical condition autism that sometimes leads to children acting out in an uncontrollable manner.
In addition to the blue clock tower, the Seychelles Autism Association has also organised a family fun run, and a gala dinner will take place Saturday.
Lyn Lavigne, the association’s chair, told SNA that some parents are still in denial over their children's condition, but there is now more acceptance from the community.
“This is very encouraging and it is also why we will persevere as an association, as it is very important for parents, educators and health professionals to detect the early signs of autism. The earlier we can identify an autistic child, the easier it is to help them,” says Lavigne.
Autism Spectrum Disorders is a life-long developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people due to the abnormal development and functions of the brain. It has no known single cause and is more likely to affect boys than girls from all racial, ethnic and social groups.
The UN General Assembly adopted April 2 as World Autism Day so that countries can take measures to raise awareness.
With little knowledge of the disorder in Seychelles, many children were labelled as either mentally challenged or non-sociable. Parents were considered unable to control their children and most often suffered in silence.
Rita Sanders, mother of a 14-year old boy diagnosed with autism told SNA that: “At school he reacted differently. He would not like being in crowds and wanted things to stay personalised. The teacher did not understand him even though I explained that he had some sort from problem. They would beat him and this affected him. He was a bright child but he began to fear going to school.”
With the opening of the Early Childhood Intervention Centre in 2008, diagnosis is now done at an early age.
Dr. Erna Athanasius, a consultant paediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Paediatrics, offers her services twice a week at the centre based at the English River clinic on the outskirts of the Seychelles capital Victoria.
Athanasius says there are subtle signs for parents to look for.
“Most babies will have a social smile by the age of 2 to 3 months as they start to recognise familiar faces, but very often the children who we diagnose later with autism, may not have demonstrated that social smile and if they do it’s only with a particular person,” she said.
The severity and the way those suffering from autism adapt to the environment around them, varies from person to person. Sanders' child does not like to be around other people on the bus.
"He cannot stand cigarette smoke. At home he has his own personal cutlery that no one else is allowed to use,” explains Sanders.
Sanders’ 14-year old son is now attending normal school and she says that he keeps to himself most of the time and even the slightest change in routine can disrupt his entire day.
On the other hand, Flory Sinon, mother of an autistic 6-year old girl who studies at the School for the Exceptional Child, says that since enrolling her daughter she has noticed marked improvement in her behaviour.
“Now she looks forward to waking up to go to school and she is much calmer than before. I believe she can achieve quite a lot but she needs the right push in the right direction,” says Sinon.
As her daughter has a very hyperactive nature, Sinon has to provide round-the-clock supervision as she can just suddenly disappear without anyone knowing where she went.
Both parents say that since the formation of ‘Pearl Seychelles’ people’s perceptions have changed with regards to their children as they are slowly becoming aware that autism is a disorder.