Health & WellnessLifestyles

With early intervention AJ ‘blossoms’ and thrives

Fawkes family vision is to see their son overcome his challenges, and become an independent and productive citizen

For many people, it’s not at all a stretch to imagine their eight-year-old child sitting in their third-grade class with a cohort of their peers, receiving instruction and following them to complete tasks. Then again, it’s also not impossible to see their children with their friends and enjoying their time at school. For parents Allan Fawkes, Sr., and Donnell Major-Fawkes, being able to see their son doing things people take for granted, is an accomplishment.

The Fawkes’ son, Allan “AJ” Fawkes, Jr., eight, is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Allan Fawkes, Sr., with his son Allan “AJ” Fawkes, Jr..

“Our family’s vision for his future is that he will continue to grow in happiness, overcome his challenges, and to become an independent and productive citizen of this country,” said Major-Fawkes, who said they will do everything they can to ensure their child’s success. “That he will supersede any and all expectations socially, communicatively and academically.”

AJ’s journey has seen him transition from being homeschooled, to small school settings, to special education environments that were mostly restricted, to a now less restrictive environment.

The youngster was around the age of two years and five months when his parents noticed that, while he could read (he has hyperlexia; advanced and unexpected reading skills and abilities in children, way beyond their chronological age), he did not have spontaneous speech. His mom said he also had echolalia (repetition of speech by a child learning to talk), food aversions, and an intense interest in numbers, and that he would line up blocks, cars, etc. She said when they would call AJ, he would not answer and it was almost as if he were deaf. She said deafness was ruled out after testing.

AJ was diagnosed on the spectrum by a local psychologist, who completed an evaluation that she said took a few hours, and a written report followed a few weeks after.

Upon diagnosis, AJ’s parents sought to get him into treatment immediately.

“His initial treatments included applied behavior analysis (ABA) and occupational therapy and, later, adding speech. While these services can be found here [in The Bahamas], the costs became far too much and inaccessible, forcing me to make a life-changing decision to separate my family and relocate to New Jersey, USA, where, once he was enrolled in public school, he received free speech and occupational therapy. The family paid for applied behavior analysis at $50 an hour.

“Within the first month and a half, I could see the improvement in AJ,” said Major-Fawkes.

After two and a half years in the US and the treatments, Major-Fawkes said AJ has become fully verbal and has “blossomed”.

Upon their return to The Bahamas, AJ could not transition into a regular school, so his parents enrolled him in a private special school for a few months where he also had access to ABA therapy. He remained there until it was no longer feasible. The Fawkes’ then enrolled him in a public school where they say he thrives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in 44 children in the US have some form of autism – that boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, and about one percent or over 75 million of the world’s population is on the spectrum.

Major-Fawkes’ plea during autism month and beyond the month of April is for parents to understand that there is more “hope than woe” and for people to realize that autism is every single day for parents with a child on the spectrum, and not just for the month of April.

“Your children should not be marginalized,” said Major-Fawkes. “Many of them are gifted and can live productive lives with the necessary help. You are your child’s greatest advocate.”

Major-Fawkes said the country’s government and civic leaders need to understand that there is an alarming number of children being diagnosed.

The educator said even more frightening is the alarming number of children in the public school going undiagnosed and falling through the cracks.

“Something must be done to address this swiftly. There is a great need for specific legislation/policies that provide our children and their families access to equitable educational opportunities through education, free early detection and therapies.

“It is my hope that our society becomes desensitized as to what autism really is. That while some children with autism have intellectual disability [a term much more widely accepted than retarded], it is not the same for others, because if you have met one child with autism, you have met one child with autism. We must support our families who have children with autism as their daily lives are not as typical as we expect.”

Major-Fawkes has started the non-profit organization – Families on the Spectrum Bahamas – dedicated to undertaking action focused on providing equal education for all children with ASD in all schools in The Bahamas, from preschool to tertiary levels.

“I started Families on the Spectrum Bahamas because, while some things were being done, not enough was being done – and much less specific things. We desire, more so, acceptance by way of inclusivity in all aspects of society.”

Parents wanting to connect with Major-Fawkes can reach out to her at telephone number (242) 646-1838.

World Autism Awareness Day is recognized on April 2 to raise awareness of people with ASD and to promote the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. Autism presents challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and, in some children, behavioral concerns.

Autism Awareness Month kicked off in The Bahamas with its 10th Annual “Light It Up Blue” ceremony on World Autism Day on April 2, under the theme “Autism Strong”.

The ceremony was hosted by REACH (Resource and Education for Autism and related Challenges), which is also seeking to ascertain information in relation to autism in The Bahamas, and allow policy to assist to be crafted.

The questionnaire seeks to gather information from the public on whether their child has been diagnosed, at what age, whether the child has any language, and any known illness, among other matters. The information received is to be provided to the appropriate ministries, to assist with knowing what numbers actually exist in country.

REACH has organized events and activities during April, intended to sensitize the public as well as increase the level of acceptance and understanding of the challenges and needs of persons affected by autism – a church service, T-shirt day every Friday during the month, and an open house.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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