by Eulana Weekes
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Mr. Phillipe Orchard, the father of an autistic son, broke his silence and brought awareness to the general public about Autism, the possibilities and the available opportunities in St.Kitts for individuals living with autism.
During the Wednesday, March 29 edition of In Focus, just a few days shy of World Autism Day (April 02), Orchard shared the story of his 13-year-old son, Keon Orchard, that raised concerns for himself and his wife, which eventually led to a confirmed diagnosis of Autism.
The young father disclosed that his son’s condition would not stand out at first glance as he doesn’t possess obvious traits of Autism. Orchard said even he himself was in denial at first and therefore can relate with parents who are often in denial when faced with such circumstances.
“So, I will be honest with you, I was in denial at first because I didn’t know, was he autistic? Was he just a little bit slow, or was he not understanding certain things?” So I can easily understand why some parents don’t initially follow their gut feeling that something needs to be looked at here; because when it’s blatantly obvious, it’s very easy to find. However, when it’s not so obvious, it could be challenging to identify, and this is why we are here, to try to make that awareness more open to parents to look for the little things as well as the big things,” the father disclosed.
Orchard said there were noticeable signs that Keon was not progressing as he should, which was first recognised by his wife and sometime after, by a friend who introduced them to the Spectrum Center in St. Kitts two years ago.
“To be honest, it was my wife who first realised it. She realised that things were not processing from our son the same way we thought [children] at his age would be processing scenarios or different circumstances of what happened, more so, in interacting with other kids, more so with the social aspect, so when we came back home to St.Kitts to live, we got in touch with the Spectrum Services Center, we asked them to do an assessment on our son. This was approximately two years ago, where he was confirmed to be autistic, and from then, We’ve been going there weekly and on a monthly basis as they recently just started doing a one monthly programme for a half-day session.”
Orchard said the process was easy. He recalled that, at about three days after contacting the Spectrum Center, an official from the Center returned a call to set up a meeting to discuss their concerns and also had a one-and-one private session with their son, which they attended. The father said, at about three to five days following the assessment, a return call from the Spectrum confirmed that Keon was on the Spectrum. Since then, the child has been engaged in arranged sessions.
Despite his denial phase, Orchard said he is pleased that the Spectrum Center offers the appropriate learning environment for his son and other children with autism.
“For me, [it] was a relief, yes, but more like, “now we can put things in place for our son to progress to his maximum potential” because for me as a parent, that’s the ultimate goal. You want your child to succeed to the best of their personal abilities. No matter what that personal ability is, you want them to get the best opportunity, and that’s pretty much what the Spectrum Center does. They try to enhance or give your child the best opportunities. They break down barriers. They help them get through difficult circumstances and scenarios that wouldn’t necessarily be easily achievable in a school environment or even in a home environment. So, it was refreshing. It’s probably the word I would prefer to use, for me as a parent; to know that I’ve got one more tool for my son to use for the rest of his life. So, that’s how I felt.”
Moreover, Orchard shared what is considered to be the bigger picture and practically the most important aspect, which is families learning how to raise an autistic child. He said the Spectrum Center is offering assistance in that regard.
The bigger picture is if I help the family, I help the kid. It spreads, and it gives a good environment for longevity. If it’s only one hour a week, one hour a week with a child is not enough time to impact any child for the rest of their life. However, Keon, for us, deals with certain scenarios or deals with certain pictures, which is developed from what the Spectrum [does]. So, for example, we know what makes Keon tick. We know what makes things go good and bad. So the Spectrum Center has now taught Keon how to manage those scenarios and us, as parents, how to assist him manage those scenarios; because that’s the biggest part of the picture. No kid is the same, but they teach the child how to socially deal with problems, but also the parents how to socially deal with the child going through those problems. I grew up in St.Kitts, and when Keon did something wrong, I would shout or say, “What are you doing?” Now, through the Centre, I’ve learned how to [question] “Why is he doing that? Is his action a response because he is doing something naughty, or Is his action a response to him not understanding how to deal with the scenario that he’s in?”
There are times when others may misinterpret scenarios or situations and question the child’s behaviour, Orchard explained. He said it is important, however, that other family members and close friends know how to interact or communicate with children living with autism. He stressed the importance of compassion and inclusion for autistic children.
“As well as compassion,[ they need] inclusion. Most kids who are autistic, in fact, any disability, just want to be normal. They don’t want to be necessarily treated any differently; they just want to be part of what you are doing, what anybody is doing, what other kids are doing. So please make that abundantly clear to you and your family. Sometimes, it’s just [about] getting them involved.”