My twin sons are people first, their autism is second

What you are looking at in this photo is a model of what love can do. An appreciation for the magnitude of their progress and the determination it took to get this far.

Tegan and Taigan are 13. Tegan has severe autism, and Taigan is high functioning.

Tegan is non-verbal. He’ll make simple sentences but for the most part he doesn’t communicate by speaking and if he is misunderstood he gets agitated and will bite his hand, jump, flap his arms and make noise. So he is frustrated because he can’t communicate effectively and we are frustrated because we don’t understand what he is trying to ‘say’.

Sons have different levels of autism

Taigan is verbal, I dare to say too verbal. Maybe that’s why his brother won’t talk! His challenge is with socialisation. He doesn’t understand that he behaves differently from neurotypical kids. He is overly friendly and doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t as friendly.

Tegan has taught himself how to play the keyboard and he reads and draws very well. He has a superb memory. He’s very versatile with gadgets such as phones, tablets and laptops. I think he will become an artist or musician. He draws and colours from memory and it is an exact replica and he plays accompanying music to songs after hearing them once or twice. It is my belief that autism has heightened that talent.

Taigan also loves gadgets. He loves to build things so he is hooked on Minecraft and lego pieces. He wants to become a police officer. He also loves maths and learns concepts quickly.

Unique talents and abilities

I think people are becoming more aware of autism. When Tegan was initially diagnosed, he couldn’t handle crowds and would throw a tantrum. People would ask what’s wrong and I would say that he is autistic. It was obvious that they were clueless. Now, even though he can handle crowds better, he will get excited and make noise. However, when I get the quizzical look and I explain, a lot of people have either heard of or had experience with autism.

Support is a big issue for parents of autistic children. Support from both the family and the community is critical,  and the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA) plays an important part in bridging that gap. I’d be lost without JASA because I had never heard about autism until my kids started missing their milestones and I started to do my research.

I have learned as parent and Jamaica can too!

JASA has taken autism awareness nationwide by being the advocate for the affected families. Children with autism behave differently, learn differently, they speak differently, their interests are different, and without diagnosis and intervention, they can be lost in the system; being promoted in the conveyor-belt-like operation and being labelled as weird and difficult.

This experience has definitely changed me for the better. I am more tolerant, patient and appreciative of the things that others may take for granted.

I would say to Jamaicans that persons with autism are people first; autism is secondary. Everyone wants to be accepted, so it’s important to include, be tolerant, accepting and importantly, empathise. I have learned to choose my battles. Some things will improve with intervention and the rest I leave to God.

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UNICEF was speaking to parents at a family support group held by the Jamaica Autism Support Association. Contact JASA for help if you are the parent of a child with autism. For access to additional benefits, register with the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD).

Parent Nicola Francis at a recent parent support group meeting held by the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA).
UNICEF/JAM/Nicola FrancisParent Nicola Francis at a recent parent support group meeting held by the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA).

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