A local occupational therapist is advocating for greater awareness and policy changes which would affect persons with disabilities, expressing concern over the growing number of children with developmental delays, Autism Spectrum disorders, and learning disabilities.
Shenika McIntosh, founder of Occupational Therapy Consulting Services, describes her work as a ‘ministry’ and not merely a job. “It’s something I’m passionate about and whether I was making money or not it’s something that I would be doing,” she says. The company she founded a little over a year ago deals with the treatment of persons who have various disabilities, as a result of either genetics, disorder, surgery, or disease. She also offers training for teachers and other health care professionals and consultations for schools and healthcare facilities with interest in program development.
“I work both with adults and paediatrics but mainly in the last eight months or so I have seen a very high number of pediatric clients with various diagnosis like developmental delay, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Down Syndrome. It is a huge concern and my business is a way for me to advocate for a lot of persons who voices aren’t being heard,” says McIntosh.
“Since returning home I have noticed an increase in children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and developmental delays. There aren’t really any statistics on it here, in The Bahamas but it’s a growing epidemic. In the US one in every 68 children is being diagnosed. I would say we have maybe more than that being diagnosed here in the Bahamas based on my statistics and talking with other professionals. It’s a quiet epidemic but no-one seems to be shedding light upon it. My business is a way for children and their parents to get the help they really need in order to be functional and independent citizens. That’s what my business is all about.”
She adds: “My goal is to bring awareness to persons as well as advocate for policy changes with ends to report screening within our health services and ensure that there are qualified persons that are able to assist those persons after they have been identified. I think that has been an issue for so long. All of our systems need to work together and there needs to be policy changes so these persons can get help so they can become independent members of society. I think we have hidden this issue for too long. It’s a growing concern. I’m seeing children older and older on the spectrum who are still unable to write, and complete basic self care skills.Imagine a fourteen year old child with Autism Spectrum disorder who is unable to properly dress, bathe, and feed himself and is unable to function in everyday settings like the grocery store, church, and school? Or, picture an eighteen your old with Down syndrome who has skills but there wasn’t a system in place where he can transition from school to the work environment. I want to be an advocate not only for education, community reintegration, and adequate healthcare, but policy changes as well.”
The Bahamas enacted the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act in 2014, and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2015. The legislation outlines several provisions for persons with disabilities. The legislation states that: “Every employer having more than one hundred employees shall employ not less than one percent of qualified persons with disabilities.” McIntosh argues that that number should be higher.
“I think that we need to raise awareness about disabilities. If we don’t we are going to have more than just an epidemic,” says McIntosh. “We need to look at our education, health and social services systems and we need to improve our statistics regarding persons with learning disabilities and developmental delays. If we act early we can try and help them as much as we can and better prepare them for society.”
Shenika McIntosh holds a Master’s degreein Occupational therapy with numerous certifications including teaching children with Autism, and developing feeding programs for medically stable children. She is a graduate of D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York and has extensive experience in both physical rehabilitation and pediatrics, having both worked in the United States of America and The Bahamas. She has worked at Princess Margaret Hospital in acute care, physical rehabilitation and Neurodevelopmental Centre for almost five years.
Ms. McIntosh is a coach for The Bahamas Special Olympics where she trains athletes with intellectual disabilities in track and field events. She is the Fine arts director at her church, Southside Christian Ministries. She enjoys traveling, swimming, and exploring new foods.