To increase understanding, acceptance and foster national support for autistic children and their families, the Arthur and Zwannah First Autism Classroom in Liberia on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, joined the international community to celebrate the World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD).
Autism, a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person’s life, still has its cause unknown with research suggesting that both genes and environment may play an important role in society.
The celebration was organized under the auspices of Straight from the Heart (SFTH) in collaboration with the Arthur and Zwannah First Autism Classroom in the country.
The event began with a walk from ELWA Junction to the venue on GSA Road in Paynesville, outside Monrovia. It marked the first initiative since United Nations launched the program in 2007.
In some parts of the country, the condition is still attributed to witchcraft or a curse from the gods, with affected children and adults subjected to various forms of abuses and stereotypes.
According to the organizers, the celebration was also meant to attract supports to Autism Spectrum Disorders, and to allow Liberians recommit themselves to promote the participation of people with autism.
Some medical experts, who spoke to Daily Observer via mobile phone, said currently no data on the prevalence of the disease in the country, yet, widespread misconception, lack of or late diagnosis and expertise to identify the condition continue to threaten “our efforts to ensure inclusion and equality of autistic people.”
Joyce Dunbar Sherman, who served as keynote speaker, called on the parents of children diagnosed of the disease to believe in themselves and never be afraid to do the right thing, “just do not be disrespectful to approach issues or people.”
Mrs. Sherman is the Assistant Health Minister for Preventive Services.
She encouraged SFTH staff to continue to carrying out home visits by convincing mothers, whose children are being afflicted by autism.
Barkon Dwah, WHO representative of the non-Communicable Disease Prevention, promised SFTH the organization support through staff capacity-building.
The Officer-in-Charge, Michael Gebeh, who read a brief history about the autism classroom, described Madam Agnes Fallah-Kamara, CEO of Arthur and Zwannah First Autism Classroom, as the who bears the vision seeks to create awareness about children diagnosed of autism, and also to assist parents with autistic children.
He said with this dream, Madam Kamara was trained in the United States, but returned home to partner with stakeholders to begin the initiative and through her networking, she was able to attract the attention of the Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, who assisted in renovating one of the classrooms in the Abundant Grace School to teach children with autism. The Abundant Grace School is located on the GSA Road.
Gebeh recalled that all of the staffers have been volunteering for a year, something which he said is highly commendable, but needs support.
He said the truth about the children with autism is that they are geniuses that might not want to be mixed with others. According to him, over 80 million people suffer autism world-wide.
He urged the parents, community members to look out for early signs in their children that could easily suspect that they are autistic, and such could be that autistic children do not look people in the face for long; they suffer from delayed speech; pay more attention to objects than people; and prone to less pointing or gesturing and imitation and that they do the same things over and again.