Nassau, Bahamas – FirstCare Medical Plan is pleased to announce the winners of the 4th Annual Autism Awareness Essay Contest. Held in partnership with the Ministry of Education and REACH, students were challenged to pen a 1,500 word essay under the theme “Fighting to Fit In.”
In their essays, each entrant proposed three solutions to promote inclusion and change the way society perceives, interacts with and supports those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The annual essay contest aims to increase senior students’ awareness and understanding of ASD – the fastest growing serious developmental disability in The Bahamas.
While there are no statistics for the prevalence of ASD in The Bahamas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with autism.
“We see firsthand the challenges faced by families affected by ASD and the need for inclusion within society, as one of our team members is a single father to a teenage son with ASD,” stated Corinna Neely, President of FirstCare Medical Plan. “We are committed to youth education and supporting our partner REACH Bahamas in their mandate to raise public awareness of ASD in The Bahamas.”
After pouring over the essay submissions, a panel of six judges from The Ministry of Education, REACH and FirstCare chose three grand prize winners and two honourable mention winners.
The five winners were awarded cash and prizes valued at more than $2k, including gift certificates from The Shoe Village and Custom Computers.
“The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is committed to providing all persons in The Bahamas with an opportunity to receive an education that will enable them to become valuable citizens,” stated Lionel Sands, Director of Education in his congratulatory address to the winners. “Those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder are of no exception. Special Education remains a top priority for the Ministry of Education.”
Ethan Knowles, a twelfth grade student at Queen’s College penned the grand prize winning essay. In his essay, Knowles likened those with ASD to growing plants in need of vital elements to achieve maximum growth. “A plant hidden away has little hope to grow. Detached, discarded and abandoned without the necessary sunlight and water, it simply withers. But a plant placed carefully on the windowsill of an open, airy window with its fair share of sunshine and water has little choice but to thrive and to blossom into a picture of beauty. Likewise, a child diagnosed with ASD that is unfairly isolated and sequestered is unlikely to grow up and be all that he can be. Those exposed to the light of acceptance and inclusion, those allowed to drink from the cup of compassion are apt to blossom into fulfilled and actualized members of society.”
Knowles received a $300 cheque from FirstCare Medical Plan, a $300 gift certificate from The Shoe Village and an iPod Nano and gift card from Custom Computers.
Megan Lightbourne, an eleventh grade student at Queen’s College was announced the first runner up. She received a $200 cheque from FirstCare Medical Plan and a $300 gift certificate from The Shoe Village.
Tyler Adderley, a tenth grade student at Bishop Michael Eldon High School was announced the second runner up. She received a $150 cheque from FirstCare Medical Plan and a $300 gift certificate from The Shoe Village.
Two honourable mention winners were selected – Rosheena Solace, a twelfth grade student at Akhepran International Academy and Brenae Clarke, an eleventh grade student at Jack Hayward Senior High.
FirstCare Medical Plan has pledged to continue their work with REACH and to host the Autism Awareness Essay contest for many years to come. “We look forward to hosting this important essay contest for years to come and doing our part to maximize each child’s potential to make them both productive and independent,” stated Neely.