Today 2nd April, we join the international community to mark World Autism Awareness Day, in recognition of people living with the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
As an organisation, we will continue the celebration throughout the month of April by organising Autism-friendly events and educational activities to increase understanding and acceptance and foster national support for autistic people and their families.
Globally, 1 in 160 children is believed to be autistic. There is currently no data on the prevalence of Autism in Sierra Leone. Yet, widespread misconception, lack of or late diagnosis and lack of expertise to identify the condition continue to pose a threat to our efforts to ensure inclusion and equality of autistic people.
Autistic people face myriad of challenges including late diagnosis, lack of clinical experts in autism and widespread social stigma against them and their families. Many families hide their children, fearing stigma which is pervasive in communities, casting disability as a sign of a curse or possession by evil spirit. Also, only few clinicians in Sierra Leone have the expertise and experience to identify autism, if they are aware of the existence of the condition.
Studies have shown that even low-functioning autistic people can thrive and do better in life than their neurotypical counterparts, if provided with the right support. And this may include, early diagnosis, social acceptance and inclusion and support for autistic people and their families.
"Having a developmental disability is not something to which a person should be subjected to ridicule in community. Autistic people like their neurotypical counterparts deserve an equal place in society," said Co-founder of Autism Voice Sierra Leone, Mariama Korrca Kandeh.
We are aware that ending myths, misconception, stereotype and stigma against autistic people and their families is a daily commitment. As an organisation, we will continue to work with community leaders and other stakeholders to ensure autistic people are recognised, respected and included as important partners in the development of Sierra Leone.