Aruba is a small island in the Caribbean, where the sun shines on the clear blue sea and the white sandy beaches, obliging locals and tourists alike to wear fashionable shades. Everyone knows someone who knows someone you know. That’s how small our community is.
The island mentality is pretty friendly and laidback. But wherever or whenever there’s an incident, you run the risk of having it become Monday to Friday’s hot topic at the office. Like wildfire, discussions of different ‘public’ issues spread and are mostly tinted by opinions, beliefs or exaggeration. It might be a politician’s paradise, but for people who live with such issues, they have the choice of either becoming untrained advocates in their field or quietly sitting out the firestorm that certainly won’t last, but is sure to reoccur within about a year.
This certainly isn’t written from a sociological point of view. It is merely my interpretation as the mother of a brilliant girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder and as someone who happens to work for the autistic community in Aruba. Autism has been considered a mere hot topic on our island, but some of us parents, family members, professionals and volunteers are passionate and determined to turn this tide.
Awareness is a beautiful thing and it is great to get that pat on the back for a job well done, but I sense that we are working towards a greater purpose…our children. Hope is renewed when parents come together and support each other, or when professionals attend meetings and conferences about autism in mass numbers (island-proportioned, mind you). All this is happening now in Aruba and I am moved when I hear that another child is diagnosed early. It might sound cynical, but to me this means that help is on the way instead of the blaring “another one bites the dust” kind of tune we tend to fearfully hear.
We might not have all of the services that larger countries have, but what we do have is an alleviative factor in this close-knit community where grandmas and grandpas live just five to twenty minutes away. Aunts, uncles and cousins spoil children and parents alike with gifts, visits and “mommy’s day off” types of agreements. You don’t have to be a cheerleader to make friends either and you come by them easily, especially when you bump into one another more often. Where there is acceptance, support and hope, you can be sure that we will not have autism served as a hot local dish anymore!
Natasha N. Richardson
The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.