Change Magazine January 2018 Issue - Page 24

Grassroots Voices AUSTRALIA STOPPING SENSELESS DEATHS OF THOSE WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER Ben Cooper It’s a stunning statistic—accidental drowning accounts for 90% of deaths of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as per a 2014 report by the University of Sciences in Philadelphia. This translates to children with ASD being 160 times more likely to drown than their neuro-typical peers. It was late at night when ASD Clinician Erika Gleeson’s life changed. She had been working on a government contract in the Australian capital city of Canberra with colleague Dr. Geoff Potter, and in the midst of their research they stumbled across the drowning statistics. “It troubled me that I didn’t know the statistics, particularly as I’ve been an ASD Clinician for over a decade and not once in my studies, research, writing of journal articles, assessments or designing of programs had those statistics 20 Change Magazine January 2018 The report, which covers deaths of children aged 14 and younger between 2009 and 2011, led a young Australian woman to start an innovative international company fighting to change a disturbing reality. presented themselves,” Ms Gleeson says. After initially thinking the statistics were incorrect—the result of a typing error—she stayed up all night collating every piece of associated information. Alarmingly, the article was right. And unfortunately, whilst statistics are unavailable for her native Australia, it’s thought the percentages would be comparable. “It stood out to me immediately how underreported the statistics were, “ Ms Gleeson says, noting she’s yet to meet a single person who knows about the statistics before being told. More disturbing, however, was the extensive information on drowning statistics and horrific stories which contrasted against an absence of strategies addressing the problems. “There was no way I could turn a blind eye to something that I considered so very preventable, and something that I knew I was in a prime position to facilitate change on.” Change Magazine January 2018 21