By KORTNEY RODGERS
THREE Queen’s College students have taken the top prizes for a national essay writing contest aiming at raising awareness of autism. Under the theme “Autism in the Bahamas: inclusion, advocacy and dispelling myths” the competition was organised by FirstCare Medical Plan in partnership with REACH Bahamas and the Ministry of Education and offered prizes valued at more than $1,000.
At an awards ceremony yesterday Raphieal Newbold Jr, a twelfth grade student from Queen’s College, who wrote the winning essay, spoke about his experience watching a toddler affectionately interact with his older brother who is affected by the neurodevelopmental disorder as an example for society to follow. “We can eradicate the teasing, the frowns and the harsh interferences. Together we can see significant improvement and advancement,” Newbold quoted from his essay.
His prizes included a $300 cheque from FirstCare Medical Plan, a gift certificate from The Shoe Village and an electronic gift from Custom Computers. The two runners-up, also from Queen’s College, were eleventh grader Ari Braithwaite and tenth grader Janae Munro. Corinna Neely, president of FirstCare Medical Plan, said her company was encouraged by the great response – 65 entries from throughout the Bahamas and Family Islands – generated by the essay contest. “Knowing that students are researching the disorder, learning more about how it affects others and linking that knowledge to personal interactions with those affected by autism can only help in fostering inclusion in the community,” she said.
Mario Carey, president of REACH Bahamas, highlighted the recently passed Disabilities Act, which he said “gives our population of special needs citizens a lot of rights, a lot of power and equal opportunity,” and a successful summer camp attended by 196 children over four weeks as signs of progress towards inclusion.
Motivated by his son, Cole, who is a US National Honour Society member with Asperger’s syndrome, Mr Carey also announced the launch of the Best Buddies Programme in the Bahamas – a global volunteer movement that seeks to incorporate those with autism spectrum disorders into the workforce.
Deputy Director of Education, Marcellus Taylor, detailed the Ministry of Education’s plan for assisting those with special needs, saying significant breakthroughs have been made over the last ten years. He confirmed that strides are still being made in this area through the issuing of the manual for National Standards of Inclusive Education (NSCIE), which he stated “was designed to educate school administrators and teachers about their obligations to make school campuses conducive for the delivery of education to all students according to the Education Act.”
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