'Great need' for autism awareness in The Bahamas

By ALESHA CADET Tribune Features Reporter A LOCAL doctor is encouraging people to unite and work together in an effort to raise awareness about autism in The Bahamas. Dr Michelle Major, who began her career in the field of autism as an inclusion teacher and a verbal behaviour therapist for children with autism, said awareness of the neurological disorder in The Bahamas, and indeed the Caribbean, is limited. The Bahamas, she said, is in need of early intervention, early identification and adult training programmes, just to name a few initiatives. With her experience of speaking on autism at international forums, Dr Major said in her view government support is essential in helping children with disabilities. "There are countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia that are more advanced in their awareness and acceptance. Autism awareness efforts are a priority and the needs of our children from an educational and legal standpoint are at the bottom of the list. "We have more laws here in The Bahamas that protect animals than we have our children," she said. Just last year, Dr Major was one of the experts speakers invited by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh and the advocacy group Autism Speaks to give a presentation at the international conference "Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities in Bangladesh and Southeast Asia." Dr Major told Tribune Health about her experience in Bangladesh. "It was an honour to be invited to participate in a monumental event where the first time ever in history a group of countries got together to sign a declaration to make a difference in the lives of children," she said. Inspired to continue advocating for children with disabilities, Dr Major and the members of the Caribbean Centre For Child Development recently held an Autism Speaks conference in The Bahamas; the event captured the attention of over 150 people, including educators, physicians and families affected by autism and other disabilities. "As a community, we need to work together, like parents and organisations like ours who are trying to make a difference," she said. Audience members at the most recent Autism Speaks event got the chance to hear presentations from a number of speakers from around the United States. The presenters included the director of the autism programme at Miami Children's Hospital, Dr Roberto Tuchman; chief executive officer Gary Goldstein and senior director Linda Brandenburg of the Kennedy Krieger Institute; director of development at the YAI Network, Matthew Aubry, and occupational therapist Gilda Gallaro. Dr Major said presenters spoke about adults living with disabilities, education programming for disabled children, neuro-development of children with autism and medical treatment. She chose to speak on the topic of sensory processing, "Everything for the event donated was free, it was in an effort to give back to the community, bring awareness and educate our parents and professionals by these people who are considered the best," she said. Dr Tuchman, she said for example, has had the opportunity to lecture globally on the neurology of autism spectrum disorders, epilepsy and other disorders of neuro-development; and Mr Goldstein serves as vice-chair of the scientific advisory committee for the Autism Speaks foundation. This was the first conference of its kind here in The Bahamas, Dr Major said. "This was also the first time all these professionals were united to speak together. The audience reception was great, they were very pleased because they never really had that calibre of people come to The Bahamas to address autism, and to top it off, it was free," she said. With hopes of hosting the conference annually, Dr Major said she is looking forward to getting support from the Bahamian community. Dr Major currently serves as the clinical director of the Caribbean Centre for Child Development in The Bahamas, having over 12 years of experience working with children with disabilities in both the private and public sectors. She also has extensive experience in the administration of developmental and neuro-psychological assessments. Dr Major specialises in the assessment and diagnosis of autism and low-incidence disabilities in children. She has given talks at local, regional and international conferences on topics such as the effectiveness of interventions for children with autism, applied behavioural analysis, parental stress related to having a child with a disability, and attribution theory.


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