In Dire Need for Support: Autism a Costly Diagnosis, Full of Hurdles for Jamaican Families

Jamaica’s lack of support for autism diagnoses leaves families, communities and children with a rough path moving forward

Autism is a costly diagnosis for a child in Jamaica. A recent article by Lisa Hanna, a Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People’s National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member, shared a story of the financial burden a family receives from an autism diagnosis in Jamaica, as well as the hurdles to receiving care.

“When they heard their child was autistic they began doing the research and very quickly understood that autism manifests differently from child to child,” she wrote. “Some children who fall into the high-functioning category stand a chance of ‘outgrowing’ their diagnosis, and stand a chance of leading fairly normal lives. However, that chance only comes at the end of a series of very costly interventions.”

An initial diagnosis appointment is $12,000. Once diagnosed, expenses only continue to build upon one another: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy twice a week at $5,000 per session; speech therapy twice a week at $13,500 per session; and a shadow (an aide to attend school) costs $70,000 per month—a month of full care can add up to a financial burden of over $220,000 to a family with a single diagnosis.

Currently in Jamaica, all of the costs fall solely on the family, unlike in the United States where support is available to help families with autistic children.

Lack of care providers

In 2019, only three speech therapists worked with autistic children in Kingston, each with waitlists longer than one year. Since then, only two more have opened offices.

The lack of occupational therapists are very similar. Today, there are only ten working occupational therapists serving the entire country of Jamaica.

This is due to a number of reasons, as often therapy students from the Caribbean study abroad and don’t return to their home countries after getting their degrees. This perpetuates the shortage of licensed therapists and contributes to the scarcity of affordable therapy services for children.

We need to do more

Therapeutic care creates brighter futures. We know that with the right support, underserved children perpetuate cycles of poor physical and mental health, economic hardship and illiteracy.

Our goal is to figure out a way to bring more access to effective care for children and families in Jamaica. At Smile A While Foundation, our programs are designed to provide training and knowledge to Jamaica-based professionals and bring more licensed therapists to Jamaica, in an effort to increase access to quality therapy and needed resources for special needs children.

By increasing access to support and therapy for children with special needs in Jamaica, we can change the trajectory of a child’s life and lead to positive health and quality of life outcomes. Jamaican government, our question is, will you join us?

Help create brighter future in Jamaica

Help provide therapy services to special needs children in areas where access to such support is not widely available with a donation to Smile A While. With your support, we can provide access to consistent, therapeutic intervention for special needs children, creating a path for a drastically improved quality of life and brighter future.

Give the child a gift of a better life today.