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Q.C. student pens winning submission

  • Diana Davis, third left, a 10th grade Queen’s College student, was the winner of the fifth annual FirstCare Medical Plan Autism Awareness Essay Contest. She is pictured with (from left) Racquella Sweeting, marketing coordinator, Custom Computers; Marcia Newball, executive director, REACH Bahamas; Shanae Smith, first runner-up; Aretha McDonald, second runner -up; Neely, president, FirstCare Medical Plan; Alease Outten, honorable mention; and Vanria Jack, education officer, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. FUSION IMC

Published: Jun 12, 2017

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It is often difficult to truly understand and empathize with a reality that is far removed from one’s own. Looking beyond the norms that define everyday existence and one’s view of the world to examine, if just for a fleeting moment, the experiences, challenges and emotions of another is atypical in today’s selfie-crazed society.

However, the fifth annual FirstCare Medical Plan Autism Awareness Essay Contest challenged high school students around the country to do just that. Under the theme “Life Through My Eyes: How Living in The Bahamas Affects a Child with Autism”, students were challenged to pen a 1,500 word narrative essay describing life for an autistic child in The Bahamas.

In the dozens of entries received, students described specific experiences and the emotions of a child with autism, and how laws, culture and access to treatment affect them daily. But it was Diana Davis, a 10th grade Queen’s College student whose submission “Life Through My Eyes” — in which she sought to give an account of a day in the life of a child with autism — was voted the winning essay.

Davis received a $300 check from FirstCare Medical Plan, a Samsung Galaxy tablet from Custom Computers, a $100 John Bull gift certificate and a Dairy Queen gift certificate.

Shanae Smith, an 11th grade Mangrove Cay High School student claimed the runner-up position, and returned to Andros with prizes that included a $200 check from FirstCare Medical Plan, a $100 gift certificate from The Shoe Village and a Dairy Queen gift certificate.

Aquinas College 10th grade student Aretha McDonald was the second runner-up. She took home a $150 check from FirstCare Medical Plan, a $100 gift certificate from The Shoe Village and a Dairy Queen gift certificate.

C.C. Sweeting School’s 10th grade student Alease Outten was given an honorable mention and received a $100 check from FirstCare Medical Plan.

The essay contest is held annually during the month of April, which is internationally recognized as Autism Awareness Month. FirstCare partners with REACH Bahamas and The Ministry of Education to increase senior students’ awareness and understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (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 United States Centers for Disease Control, one 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,” said Corinna Neely, president of FirstCare Medical Plan.

“We are always encouraged by the well-researched and written essays and confident that building awareness in our community will help to foster inclusion for those who are affected with ASD in The Bahamas,” she said.

Joel Lewis, deputy director of education in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, said the ministry continues to support all students, including those with autism, and annually aggressively recruits teachers who are equipped to deal with this “different” ability.

“The department ensures that students with autism are integrated into the ‘regular’ school environment, which will allow them to communicate and form relationships more readily,” said Lewis.

FirstCare Medical Plan has pledged to continue their work with REACH and to host the Autism Awareness Essay contest for many years to come.


Diana Davis’ winning essay ‘Life Through My Eyes: How Living in The Bahamas Affects a Child with Autism’


A blazing, harsh light punctured my eyelids and forced them to open. I was met with the sight of the dark blue walls in my bedroom. The bright light that made itself known again, from my window, compelled me to look in its direction. While the whole room was the dark sky, the window was the moon. It twinkled against my shadowy room and the usual morning wind made the curtains dance. They went up and down, up and down, in a fluid motion. Each piece of fabric doing the tango with its partner. I scrutinized every detail of the moving pattern of the vibrant pale roses scattered across the curtains’ surface.


I continued to stare intently at the whirl show, for what seemed like hours, when a gentle shake to my shoulder snapped me out of my stupor. I blinked, confused as to who was wanting my attention. After scanning the room for anything out of the ordinary, my eyes fell on her. It was mother. She had her usual face-splitting wide grin and said in her delicate, soft-spoken voice, “Good morning sweetie, it's time to get dressed.”

I looked at her perplexed as to what to tell her or what to do at that moment. Her tired eyes glimmered in understanding and she pointed to my regular clothes that I wear every weekday.

“You have to put your shirt and shorts on, honey.”

She handed me the outfit and the orange outlining of the seahorse logo on the brown shirt caught my eyes.

“I’ll have breakfast ready soon, okay Mary?”

My clothes seemed more interesting, as I started to caress the fibers of the shirt and my mother awkwardly left unnoticed. After dressing up and finishing my routine, I slowly went downstairs at 7:59, like every other morning. My typical breakfast set up was arranged with my plate in the middle, glass of orange juice on the right and my utensils on the left. I pointed to the grandfather clock in the corner of the room, its big hands ticking slowly in different directions. Realizing what I meant, she quickly gathered the things and we headed to the car at exactly 8:20.

I sat in the back right seat of the car on our familiar route to school. It was always down the road, turning left, going round and round on the round-about, turning right, and going straight ahead. We would ordinarily first pass all of our neighbors’ homes that looked like rows of dominos, only each had its own unique color standing out as we pass by.

Turning out of our avenue, forcibly tearing my gaze from the houses, we spun around the roundabout like a merry-go-round. We started to pass the shop area with stores smacked tightly together. The car suddenly halted at a red light that lasted for 45 seconds each morning.

A woman holding a shiny silver stapler was pounding onto one of the bulletin boards to hold up an enormous thick-paper sign. The stapler retracted after every single staple was punctured in the plaster. Slam, retreat, slam, retreat. The sign had the phrase, ‘#LightItUpBlue’, in big, bold blue letters.

The traffic light turned green and the car speeds off away from the mysterious sign. In what seemed like seconds, we arrived at my school. A humongous board was squarely placed in the front of the building, labeled as “Seahorse Institute’” with two seahorses next to each other adorned with a blue lining around them.

Ms. Johnson was standing at the door naturally waiting for me with a warm smile etched on her features. She waved towards me as I stepped out of the car with mother. Ms. Johnson exclaimed enthusiastically, “Good morning Miss Thompson. Good morning Mary. It’s nice to see you guys!”

“Good morning to you, Miss Johnson.”

“On time like always, huh?”

Mother nodded her head and beckoned me forward. Looking up at Ms. Johnson with an inspecting look in my eyes, I stiffly looked at my shoes. Ms. Johnson, having a sudden glint in her eyes, stretched her arms out as an invitation. Looking up and beaming in pure glee, I rushed into her arms and felt a certain warmth that she always seem to have. Mother smirked knowingly and said, “Her mood seems to brighten up with you, eh?”

“It’s a gift!”

Ms. Johnson winked playfully and we said our goodbyes to mother. We walked to the classroom, holding hands, and started my normal classes. The school was fairly sized and had only about 10 or 15 students in each class. The best part about my school was that we each got our own special teacher, mine being Ms. Johnson. Strictly at 8:45, our first lesson began, which was art class.

“Beautiful as ever Mary!”

I liked to draw the things around me, especially with color pens. I adore cross-hatching everything, everywhere. I like the scotching sound it makes when in criss-cross the lines on the paper. Criss-cross, criss-cross, cross-criss, cross-criss. I was drawing the women with the huge stapler when a piercing ringing sound interrupted my thoughts.

“Oh, it’s time for speech class now. Let’s go. ”

Not hearing anything around me, I continued to draw happily. A hand lightly


touched my shoulder and started to move my pens on the side. My eyes snapped open twice their size and I flapped my arms to keep my pens. I wanted to draw more. I wanted to cross hatch. Sketching makes me tender inside. Sketching makes everything alright.

Ms. Johnson glanced at me with an unreadable look in her blue orbs and with an obviously forced smile, she stated, “How about we take breaks in between speech lessons for you to draw? I’ll even get the erasable pens for you!”

I considered it for a moment. Those pens do help me make cool designs. Still feeling reluctant and annoyed that I couldn’t have more time, I held up two tens to extend my drawing time.

“Ahh, I’ll give you eighteen minutes instead. “

Ms. Johnson held out her hand and I hesitantly held it in my grasp to go off to speaking.

School passed by in a blur of me wanting to draw longer and Ms. Johnson counter-attacking me with bargains and cheeky smiles. Still feeling a little angsty over my limited time, I grouchily got in the car with mother to start the ride home explicitly at three fifteen.

Starting our daily routine back home, Mother had turned on the radio to listen to the day-to-day news on her favorite station.

“Today everyone is celebrating Autism Awareness Day for the whole month with a bunch of huge donations to these programs helping autism. Get da word out! Tell ya friends, tell ya Grandma and —”

The car screeched abruptly as my mother stomped on the breaks. She mumbles pitifully, “Oh Lord, there’s a construction site blocking the corner, I have to turn around ...”

She reverses and moves the car away from the corner leading to the roundabout and turned in an unknown intersection to the left. What was mother doing? This wasn’t the way to go home. Why was she driving this way? I desperately banged on the car window looking longingly at the corner. I screamed loudly and bounced in my seat angrily. Take me back now! We need to go home that way or we won’t get there in time. Mother shakily remarked, “M-Mary! Calm down, please, we have to go a different route ... just hold on a little longer p-please! ”

I didn’t want to wait any longer, I wanted to go home, right this instant. The lift through the foreign roads was antagonizing bit by bit with me having a panic attack in the backseat of the car. The dim, bumpy roads were frightening and there were no people on the sidewalk to comfort me. It didn’t matter if my favorite song was playing on the radio, or that a soothing hand was rubbing my shoulder, I wanted to get home.

Even when a recognizable faint yellow house came into view, my horrible mood did not cease. Forcibly having to pull me out of the car squirming viciously, mother tried to drag me into the house. Unbeknownst to me, disapproving glowers and scoffs were directed to us by our next door neighbor. Mother, however, noticed the nasty glares and with her mood instantly changed. With a withering glare, she shouted angrily, “Why don’t you mind your own business, Harald? I thought you were a law-abiding citizen? Whatever prejudice induced thoughts are running through that big head of yours better come out of it, cause no one messes with my daughter! ”

The said man dismissed the outburst and sneered at mother.

“Tch! Your ‘handy cap’ child is just fussy. I could use some peace and quiet please!”

Mother was shaking but I didn’t understand why. Her grip on me tightened slightly and she rushed inside, having better things to do than scuffle with the neighbor like usual.

“See? We made it honey! You don’t have to worry, we’re home. ”

In a lifeless haze, I strut up the stairs to my room’s door and glanced back at mother, as if wanting to say something but the words couldn’t reach my lips. Why was it that I could act the way I wanted, but not be able to talk the way I wanted to? Mother’s face of pity said it all.

I burst into my room and went straight into the bathroom to stare at my reflection in the mirror. Gray bags under my eyes, short hair combed into a ponytail and bruises on my knuckles.

“Beautiful as ever, Mary.”



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