Tue | Dec 5, 2023

Chang: Ja can eliminate autism stigma - Support group founder wants locals to stop seeing persons with illness as ‘other’

Published:Tuesday | April 2, 2019 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

With approximately 700 children born with autism in Jamaica each year, Kathy Chang, co-founder of the non-profit Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA), wants more to be done to help overcome the stigma associated with the disorder.

“We are much better off than we were in 2006, when JASA was founded. More people are indeed more aware of what autism is and that is always a positive, but we still have the stigma associated with it because, unfortunately, our society is one that does not readily accept differences,” Chang said.

She was speaking with The Gleaner yesterday ahead of today’s observance of World Autism Awareness Day, which will see thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world decorated in light blue in recognition of people living with autism.

More prevalent in boys

Autism is four to five times more prevalent in boys than girls. Of the 678 confirmed cases of children born with the condition in Jamaica last year, 545 are boys and 133 are girls, with almost half of the children having average or above-average intellectual functioning, according to data provided by Chang.

She told The Gleaner that while the stigma issue is “ever-present”, she is hopeful that efforts will be redoubled locally in order to end it, as people who are affected by the condition are first of all human beings, loving and caring.

“There is no doubt that we can get over the stigma [related to] autism. If people can see that it’s not just a child or a person with autism, but that they are just like everybody else – different but not less than – then that fight would be over. There is still work to do on that account,” said Chang.

World Autism Awareness Day is a United Nations observance day, which falls on April 2 each year. It was instituted in 2007 to counteract any discrimination that might occur against those with autism and their caregivers by creating greater understanding in societies across the world.