First Lady Natalie Michel has named Dr Erna Athanasius to serve as an advisor on the Autism Awareness project committee set up recently.
Dr Athanasius, in her capacity as the ambassador for women and children, and a pediatrician by profession, has a wealth of experience in this field.
Thursday morning during a meeting at State House, Mrs Michel met Dr Athanasius and they discussed the autism project and also a wide range of other issues affecting children. These include prostitution, teenage pregnancy and illegal abortions.
Mrs Michel had a first meeting with ambassador Athanasius in May this year to agree on the broad lines of partnership between the Seychelles Children’s Foundation and her office.
Yesterday’s meeting revolved around concrete issues and they explored their action-oriented partnership that will pave the way to a more tangible work plan between them.
In relation to autism, Dr Athanasius said around two to six in every 200 children in Seychelles have the condition. She added that autism has been somewhat overlooked here in the past probably because there were no specialists working in this field.
She pointed out that since the opening of the Early Childhood Intervention Centre at the English River Health Centre in 2009, she has consulted many children under the age of four and six who have been diagnosed with autism.
She said there is no treatment for autism but parents have to be educated and get support so that they will know how to identify the signs of autism and better cope with their children’s behaviour and attitude with regard to the condition.
“The First Lady is very keen on working on the advocacy project for autism and parents whose children have autism,” Dr Athanasius added.
During their meeting yesterday morning, the First Lady and Dr Athanasius also discussed the need to have a stronger advocacy campaign to prevent foetal alcohol syndrome in Seychelles.
“This is one of the preventable childhood disabilities. If a mother refrains from taking alcohol during pregnancy there will be no foetal alcohol defects,” Dr Athanasius stressed.
She pointed out that health professionals are always telling expectant mothers not to consume alcohol during pregnancy but she feels there is not enough emphasis on the issue.
She said parents who consume alcohol during pregnancy affect their babies’ intelligence quotient (IQ), that is their intellectual abilities.
The committee on Autism Awareness is expected to meet soon to discuss further its plan of action.