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Light it up blue in support of Autism Awareness Month

Investing a little in early intervention therapy for children diagnosed with autism can be a plus in the long run, as many of the children can go on to live productive lives, according to the parent of a 16-year-old autistic child.

“I think it’s important to realize how important funding is and how important it is to help others,” said Kim Gibson, a REACH (Resources and Education for Autism and Related Challenges) parent and volunteer. “If you invest a little in early intervention for therapy, then you can save in the long run.”

Gibson’s call comes during Autism Awareness Month, a time during which people around the world come together to pledge to go blue to increase global understanding and acceptance of people with autism.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, autism today affects an estimated one in 59 children in the United States.

When Gibson’s son Daylen who is now 16-years-old, was diagnosed, the statistic was one in every 150 children, then it went to one in every 99; but now the prevalence is one in every 59 children.

“I have seen some children who got the therapies early, who were able to afford to go off and get them, and get them here, and those kids are really close to typical – and they’re like five years old. If we could do that, we could save,” said Gibson. “A lot of them go on to live super productive lives – but if they don’t [receive therapies] they go on to be a burden on the public purse. I think it’s important to realize how important funding is and how important it is to help others.”

In a show of support to parents and volunteers of REACH, individuals as well as corporate Bahamas are invited to change at least one light bulb in their home or business to blow just to show support.

And whatever clothing you don today, by putting on blue, you can show that you’re in support of understanding and acceptance of people with autism.

With a full month of activities which began with a church service on Sunday, REACH initiatives continue tonight with its 7th annual Light It Up Blue ceremony in Rawson Square at 6 p.m. with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis scheduled to flip the light it up blue switch downtown. Simultaneously, a switch will be flipped at his office, lighting it up blue as well in support.

Also, on the schedule is a Congo drum performance by Chase Bethel, a performance by the Garvin Tynes Primary School handbellers as well as a performance by Reginald Wells, Brenae Bodie and Jude Miller on 10 things every child with autism wants you to know.

REACH activities continue throughout the month with three t-shirt days on the calendar scheduled for April 5, 12 and 26. REACH will host an Easter egg hunt on April 22, and an open house on April 24 with a parent support group meeting.

The organization’s fun run walk will commence at Montague Beach to the Sidney Poitier Bridge to Paradise Island and back to Montague with registration at $20 which is inclusive of a shirt.

A jazz event, Spectrum of Jazz, will be held at the Balmoral Club and Jazz Etcetera will headline on the calendar outside the official month on May 11. The fundraiser is priced at $150 and includes dinner as well as a silent auction.

Funds raised from the event go

towards funding a therapeutic summer camp which offers free therapy specifically for children who did not have access to therapy before.

Gibson said therapists from the United States along with local therapists conduct the month-long camp on a volunteer basis. REACH pays for the accommodations, meals and transportation for therapists brought in, and gives local therapists a stipend.

Last year 30 children benefitted from the camp. Gibson said this year they are hoping to be able to accommodate even more children.

Autism can be manifested in language, speech, social skills and behavior.

With only three speech therapists in the country, and every autistic child needing speech therapy, occupational therapy and applied behavior analysis (ABA), in which they modify negative behaviors and encourage positive behaviors to make sure the children act appropriately and not inappropriately, Gibson, a former REACH vice president said it’s been rough.

And while the US statistic is one in every 59 children, locally, REACH still does not have a statistic, but Gibson said the Autism Speaks organization is working with REACH to assist them with research.

In New Providence there is also currently just one government preschool, Willard Patton, that works with children with autism, and Gibson said there’s a waiting list to get in. Two government primary schools, Garvin Tynes and Stapledon School, also have units for children with autism. She said there are other resources, but that they are private and not everyone can afford to pay the fees.

“Much is lacking and much is needed,” said Gibson. “A lot of work has to be done. We’re hoping that awareness will continue to help with funding and with funding we can help more children.”

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