Autism in the Caribbean

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. This is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. It shows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries. Worldwide, autism and its associated behaviours have been estimated to occur in as many as one in 500 individuals.

The Various Symptoms of Autism

Two to six children out of every thousand will end up with Autism. It is one of the fastest growing disorders with a great amount of studies being put behind it. With the vast amounts of different signs and symptoms, different forms, treatments, and arguments about how exactly the disorder came to being is still in dispute.  Autism can very well be one of the most researched, but still confusing disorders, as it stirs up tons of questions but yet hardly gets any answers.

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Autism in the Caribbean  

Developing Caribbean countries such as Jamaica and Haiti have little or no resources to educate autistic children. In many cases, families have never heard of autism, and are unaware that this is the condition that is affecting their child. Often, the families are poor, and the household is headed by a single mother.

A recent survey found that 1 in 62 children in Puerto Rico suffer from autism or a related disorder. The rate of U.S. cases rose to about 1 in 88 children. The previous estimate was 1 in 110. It is therefore obvious that the number of autistic individuals is increasing. This is especially true for the Caribbean. In fact, researchers have discovered that based on sheer ethnicity, Caribbean people are among the most likely to become autistic. The research covered 428 children diagnosed with autism during a six-year period.

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The Future

The fact that there are few programs and services in place to provide and support the wave of autism is alarming. While some services do exist, they are unable to meet the rising number of individuals who need and rely on them.

How to get Help?

Caribbean Centre For Child Development

Agencies such as the Caribbean Centre for Child Development have been created to facilitate the journey for children who struggle with disorders such as autism. The aim is to delay the social and emotional challenges caused by the disease.

The Maia Chung Foundation

Jamaican journalist Maia Chung-Smith has done much to aid autistic children in her home country. For Chung-Smith, the battle is personal. Her third child, Quinn, nine, is autistic. His grandmother taught him the alphabet and takes care of him while his mother and father work. She explained that in Jamaica, there are no schools that accept autistic children. The Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation, has raised over $3 million to assist persons living with the disease.

Activate Yourself!

Activate Yourself is the ‘spirit and motivation’ of autistic youths, a project geared at improving the lives of children and young adults living with autism. ‘Activate Yourself’ was developed to encourage active participation of young people with ASD; empower them as active citizens, make them aware of their role in creating their own future and promote their equal rights and opportunities.


As far as a cure for autism is concerned, it does not seem probable that in the long terms any breakthroughs will be accomplished. However, researchers attached to organisations such as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention are currently looking into likely causes such as the medication that pregnant women take and those their young children take, resulting in autism. The first results of that study are expected next year. The CDC is also focusing on early intervention to be able to diagnose potential autism cases and provide educational services to parents.

It is possible that over the next few years, a much clearer picture, of how genes and environmental factors combine to cause autism, will be painted. This is especially due to the urgency infused by the escalation in autistic cases here in the Caribbean Region, in the US and across the world. 

By: Norvan Martin



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