Autism Awareness Forum

By anguillian December 11, 2017 10:23 Updated




The Gender Affairs Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs is currently engaged in a program called “Sixteen Days of Activism”. As part of this program, an evening forum was held at La Vue Hotel on Monday, December 4th, to focus on the awareness of autism in the Anguillian society.

In referring to the two-week long program, Mrs. Ronya Foy Connor addressed the modest gathering by saying: “This Sixteen Days of Activism against gender-based violence is an international event recognizing the need to eliminate violence in all of its forms, celebrating women, human rights defenders, acknowledging World Aids Day, an International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, and commemorating the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. It is under this mandate that I am pleased to hold the first ever gender affairs event focusing on autism awareness. Here we provide a space for us to speak out about daily challenges and to speak up about needed support for the individuals and families affected by autism.”

Dr. Connor introduced the moderator and organizer of the forum, Ms. Annishka White, who has a great interest and passion for the subject of autism, seeing that she is the mother of an autistic child. As a precursor to her moderating the forum, Ms. White gave an overview of the event, and had this to say in part:

“Autism doesn’t define who I am. I am me. See me and don’t see my disorder. That’s what children like my daughter and many others with developmental delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), are saying. ASD is not who they are. They have their own personalities. They are unique just like the rest of us. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people. As I have always said, autism has no face, but it’s just how children with autism may communicate, interact, behave, and learn that makes them different, in a way, from most people. Their learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities can range from gifted to severely challenged, and some require a lot of help in their daily lives, while others need less.”

Ms. White continued: “Autism not only affects the child but the entire family, as many times siblings are ridiculed or teased about their brother or sister on the spectrum. Families may be disrupted, marriages or relationships broken, and a sense of helplessness may ensue. This makes it more challenging as the negativity is not only towards the child with ASD but also towards their siblings and the family in general. As one of those families, and a single parent, for me it requires a great deal of strength, patience, love, understanding, prayer and endurance to raise a child on the spectrum with such developmental delays.
“More and more we are hearing of children who have either been diagnosed, or undiagnosed, but who show the signs and symptoms of ASD and/or developmental delays within our Anguilla society. It is for this reason that we must not be blinded to autism and its effects on the child’s wellbeing and our families’. Yes, it has become more prevalent, or must I say, we are becoming more aware of this disorder that has probably been around for a long time. We must bring awareness and ask for acceptance for children who are on the spectrum, or who have developmental delays, so that they can feel as an integral part of our schools and communities. As a society, we must protect all of our children at all cost. It is not enough to say ‘it’s not my child,’ but it’s our duty as humans to ensure that they are protected and cared for just as any other child that we may deem normal.”

Members of the forum’s panel included: Dr. Indira Singh, Pediatrician with the Anguilla Health Authority; Mrs. Rhonda Connor, Chief Education Officer; Tr. Cyslyn Richardson, Speech and Language Therapist; and Dr. D’Antoinette Rogers-Sorton, Occupational Therapist of St. Maarten.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Rogers-Sorton who had travelled to the island just for the occasion. She began by saying: “It is a breath of fresh air to hear, through the Chief Education Officer, that the government really considers every child. And it’s very good to know you are thinking about providing solutions for those children who are on the spectrum.” With regard to her title Occupational Therapist, the doctor explained that her job is basically to get the patient with ASD “to do” what they have to do, or to ‘occupy’ themselves with doing meaningful tasks that require them to function optimally, or as best as they can.

She explained: “So this is where we as Occupational Therapists differentiate ourselves from other paramedics like Physical Therapists. We have to think all the time very holistically. We have to consider the person, and the environment and the occupation which they should be doing at all times. And when we say the person, we mean the entire person. When a child with autism presents to my clinic, we must be first of all be clear that it is autism the child is diagnosed with, and this is what I am going to treat. However, mommy is not handling it too well; daddy might not be handling it fairly; and brother and sister do not understand. So, as an Occupational Therapist, I have to consider the entire child: his or her social environment; their physical environment; and even their spiritual wellbeing. And taking all of this into consideration, I must work with them to make sure that they can be functioning up to an acceptable standard.”

The audience benefitted much from the insight given by the panel. At the end of their presentations many thought- provoking and insightful questions were raised by the audience, many of whom are either parents of children with ASD or who are related in one way or another to a child affected by autism. Many fruitful comments and much advice were shared in support of those parents who struggle on a day-to-day basis with the challenges of dealing with autistic loved ones. Everyone responded favorably, and all was filled with praise and appreciation for the night’s event.

With an extensive drive in pioneering what she considers as a support arm for families of autistic children, Ms. Annishka White has embarked on her own brainchild for creating a Foundation called “iSpeak” (pronounced: I speak).

Here is her vision and her description of “iSpeak”: “The aim of ‘iSpeak’is to be a support group where parents of children on the spectrum are able to voice their concerns and get the assistance they need, whether it be from other parents with ASD-affected children or from specialists in the field. It is hoped that this effort would grow into a vibrant foundation that would cater to the needs of all children and families affected by the spectrum. Autism does not cease when the affected person is no longer a child, but the life-long disability continues; thus, the need for continued support. This support does not just entail information or education, but such benefits as social activities and medical assistance that would help affected individuals live the best quality of life possible. Of course, it will call for the support of the wider community to ensure that the ‘iSpeak’ Foundation is a reality for all who require such support.”

As a woman of faith, Ms. White wishes to first thank God for the endurance and fortitude He has given her to manage with her struggle throughout the years. By the same token, she wishes to thank Dr. Ronya Foy Connor for her support in executing Monday night’s event as part of the “Sixteen Days of Activism”. She also thanks Njeri Carty and Dr. Patvin Adams for the encouragement they have spurred her on with to initiate the Foundation. In addition, she expresses appreciation to Mrs. Shellicia Brooks-Johnson for developing the blogging workshop which gave her the keen idea for “iSpeak”. Finally, she stands to thank the presenters of the forum who have affected the life of her autistic daughter for good, in one way or another, throughout the years.

Interested persons of the community who would like more information on the budding “iSpeak” Foundation, may contact Ms. White at cell: 584-1058, email: or on Facebook.

By anguillian December 11, 2017 10:23 Updated


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