It was September of 2016, and Victoria Foulds was excited about her upcoming move from Luxembourg to Grand Cayman.
She and her young son, Sebastian Foulds, were about to embark on this new adventure when they received results back from developmental testing Sebastian had recently undergone.
“Literally, as we were getting on a plane to come to Cayman, I had just been given Sebastian's diagnosis that he was autistic,” Victoria Foulds said. “I was coming to Cayman having no idea what we were coming into and what we were going to be taking on. Because at that time I'm like, ‘What even is autism?’”
Sunday, 2 April marked the United Nations World Autism Awareness Day to highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of those with autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society. Lighthouse School also held a 5K run and walk at Camana Bay last month to raise funds and promote autism awareness.
Sebastian is now a student at Village Montessori. He’s non-verbal, which presents a specific set of challenges as he wants to hang out and do the same things others his age are doing.
“He wants to make friends,” Victoria said. “He wants to be involved. His ability to communicate verbally, that lets him down.”
Victoria said the resources available in Cayman to assist children with autism — and their parents — are plentiful, but says the costs of occupational therapy, speech therapy and more are burdensome and can leave help out of reach for many. She credits organisations like the Special Needs Foundation and, in particular, Inclusion Cayman and their staff, for working with her family and the Village Montessori educators.
“We’ve been on our journey of discovering autism in the time that we’ve been here,” Foulds said. “[Inclusion Cayman] has been invaluable to me.”
She says the most important bit of awareness she would like to raise has to do with others’ perception of children with autism. One in 100 children are diagnosed with autism, according to the World Health Organization, so she encourages people to have patience, compassion and understanding.
“He can't express what he wants to say. It's frustration; it's not that he's being naughty,” she said.
“Regardless of whether Sebastian's autistic or not, I have the same expectations on him as I would if he was a child without autism.”
She also hopes that same compassion is offered to parents.
“Having a child with autism is — I'm just so appreciative of anybody's struggles," Victoria Foulds said. “Every day I'm figuring things out and learning. Just because I'm the mom of a kid with autism, I don't have a manual. I don't have all the answers.”
Thanks to the support of Village Montessori, Inclusion Cayman and others in the community, Victoria and Sebastian continue their autism journey and ensuring Sebastian is enjoying the same things as his peers. Just this year Sebastian joined a little league baseball team, his first recreational activity.
“He's a really affectionate kid. [People] tend to pull back, [but] he still wants to be your friend,” Foulds said.
“Coming to Cayman came together because, in a strange way, it was going to be the best way forward. It's constantly a struggle but ultimately just the environment here, the people here, the connections that you can make it, it has proved to really be a blessing.”
She’s hoping by telling their story, other children with autism and their families will find that blessing as well.
This article was published in the May 2023 print edition of Camana Bay Times.