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New book coming to help Jamaicans better support, understand autistic children

Published:Wednesday | September 18, 2019 | 12:27 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Richard Phillips says the book he has co-written is in its final editing stages.
Richard Phillips says the book he has co-written is in its final editing stages.

Learning Innovations for Autism Management (LIAM) is on target to create an inclusive educational system that supports children with autism.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that prevents people from understanding what they see, hear and otherwise sense. Jamaican advocate and author Richard Phillips, who has a son with autism, developed the concept in 2011 and it has since received government approval.

The book, which is a major part of the project, is in its final editing stage and LIAM has garnered the support of The Mico University College and Northern Caribbean University.

It is co-authored by Phillips; Dr Avril Daley, a special education educator at Mico; and Canadian educational consultant Dr Clyde Glasgow, among others.

Through culturally appropriate illustrations and scenarios, the book outlines characteristics associated with autism, instructional approaches for teaching various skills, and a guide for managing challenging behaviours.

Identifying developmental issues

It also provides strategies for transitioning into the school system, having identified the developmental issue at an early age, and how to make a smooth switch between activities, grade levels, staff and schools.

Phillips said that identifying children with autism remains a problem in Jamaica, with 5,000 newborns having the condition annually.

“I have watched a child being beaten because they are basically autistic, and most Jamaicans, if they had the education, they wouldn’t do it. They would say, ‘That’s an autistic child. Ease up on him. Don’t beat him’,” he explained.

He said though the material will be piloted in teacher-training institutions, it is written so that parents can understand and a community approach can be taken towards dealing with autistic children.

“Mico wants to host the programme for the teachers in the Kingston area. Student teachers who are learning here in Kingston would be able to go there and actually see a classroom with autistic children and also get the learning from the textbook,” Phillips told The Gleaner.

LIAM is not meant to be a replacement for existing special-education courses, but supplement them and provide general education for the wider society.

“What we want is a basic guarantee and I think the prime minister, who asked me to do this, wants the basic understanding for the teachers so they can identify the children,” he said.

Phillips added that a non-profit organisation in Canada is willing to pay for publishing and printing of the book in Jamaica.

The pilot is part of a larger vision that will impact children across the world, and this was demonstrated in a letter of support received from Compassion Canada.

“They take care of one and a half million children around the world, mostly in Africa, and they have said, once Jamaica moves, we want to audit it here and take it to 25 more countries around the world,” Phillips said.

One thousand teachers are being targeted for the first phase, and foreign experts will work alongside them until the programme becomes self-reliant.

LIAM is also considering training for in-service educators.