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How prevalent is autism in Jamaica?

Answered by Aneisha Dobson, Associate Writer

Every parent eagerly anticipates the new life that they will share with their child. Their first step, their first word, their first day at school, their first everything.

No mother or father imagine that their child will be diagnosed with any form of disability or cognitive impairment. However, this is the shocking reality for many parents. Although it is not a popular topic in Jamaica, autism is probably more prevalent that many would have thought, and therefore, a matter that should not be ignored.


According to an article published in the Jamaican Gleaner article by Maureen Samms-Vaughan, 1 in every 68 children born is affected by autism. Surprising, right!

So at approximately 40,000 births per year, close to 600 children will be born with autism, she noted. She also noted that autism is four to five times more prevalent in boys than girls!

For those readers who are unaware of what autism is, here’s a little insight.

What is autism?

Autism is a neurobehavioral condition that affects an individual’s social interaction, language development and communication skills.

If you observe an autistic child, you may realize that their inability to communicate effectively usually has some impact on their social development. As such, they have difficulty communicating both verbally (with speech) and non-verbally (with gestures and facial expressions).

They often misinterpret people’s facial expressions, voice tones and gestures and will as a result respond indifferently. In addition, their repetitive behaviour (hand flapping, rocking, pacing, etc.) also acts as a deterrent to their social development.

These behaviours are usually displayed frequently and intensively. As a result, autistic people are resistant to change.

Simply put, autism causes a person to see the world from a different angle, and this is what makes it much harder for them.

Symptoms of autism usually manifest around the first three years of life. However, these symptoms usually come to light when they child’s abilities are not on par with demands of the environment. For instance, slow speech development. It is often encouraged that once the signs of autism are observed then an early diagnosis should be done.

Causes of Autism in Jamaica

Through research, it has been revealed that the causes of autism are linked to genetic factors and environmental factors. In addition, parents that are 35 years and older are at greater risk of having an autistic child.

Is there a cure for autism?

Sadly, no. Autism is a lifelong development disability, hence there is no cure for it.

Caring for an autistic child

Regardless of their disability, those suffering from autism deserve as much love, care and respect as anyone else. However, caring for an autistic child is far from easy. Such as situation can take a mental strain on the involved parent(s).

In fact, many have gone through periods of denial, unwilling to accept that their child is autistic.

Although the situation may seem dire, it is possible to manage and properly care for an autistic individual with the correct treatment, which include behaviour therapy, speech therapy, special education services among others.

Foundations and Association

Like I said, autism is not a popular topic but that has not stopped individuals from contributing their time, resources and love into raising autism awareness. In fact, some founders of these organizations are parents to autistic children. If your feeling philanthropic, you can donate funds and your time to these organizations.

Here are some:

  • Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA)

    The JASA was established in an effort to raise awareness about autism in Jamaica. They also provide assistance in the research of autism in Jamaica and advocate for an educational system that includes autistic children. Additionally, this association assist as a strong parent support group for parent of autistic children.
    Website: Contact: (876) 776-6827

  • The Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation – (876) 435-5961 / (876) 295-2763
    Established on April 28, 2018 by Maia Chung, a parent to an autistic child, is the first autism foundation in Jamaica. It has raised funds for assisting autistic and disabled people. Website:

  • Montego Bay Autism Centre – (876) 630-7506 / (917)463-3621. Website:

  • Promise Learning Centre – Contact: (876) 631-5201/ (876)631-5164/ (876) 906-8283.

“Autism is not a puzzle, nor a disease. Autism is a challenge, but certainly not a devastating.”- Trisha Van Berkel



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