And The Award For Special Needs Goes To…


And The Award For Special Needs Goes To... The recent news of a good Samaritan helping a differently-abled man touched the hearts of thousands of people around Trinidad & Tobago. As a mother of 3 boys on the spectrum, it is always so uplifting to see that there are people around who care about others, particularly those with special needs and who are not afraid to show it by actions.

The aftermath of this wonderful story is something that has been on my mind recently. Because of the kindness and compassion shown by this young woman, it resulted in a meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, who praised her and commended her for what she did as well as given an award by a Mayor. The media was present and many in government felt very comfortable to pose for a picture with this impressive young lady.

During the budget debate, one of the Independent Senators Mr. Roach, who is differently-abled and uses a wheelchair, expressed his disgust over the politicians posing with this good Samaritan as he lamented very little or nothing has been done to help the disabled in this country.

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This statement is very true. As I type this, nothing has been done to help the autism community in Trinidad & Tobago. No amount of letters or meetings seems to touch the hearts of those who are supposed to take care of EACH and EVERY citizen in this country. Our children on the spectrum are still NOT able to access free public education, they are unable to receive free public therapy and they have been abandoned for many years by apathetic, heartless and unperturbed governments who never cared about seriously helping the special needs community in Trinidad & Tobago. But they surely care about smiling for a picture.

They do not understand and they do not want to understand. They have been informed about the serious challenges parents of children and adults with autism are going through every single day and they still choose to turn a blind eye, put on a steel face and try to attach themselves to an act of compassion performed by a single person thinking that it makes them look better. It does not. It makes them stand out even more (And not in a positive light), for what they are supposed to do as far as taking care of all citizens in this country.

It is any government’s solely responsibility to ensure its citizens are provided with proper health care and education, it is not a favour they are providing to their citizens. It is their job! When you have people in power to make a difference, who are aware of the needs of the most fragile and vulnerable of society but they simply choose not to do anything about it, what does it say about them?

How frustrating it is for any parent not able to provide an education for their child in 2016. How frustrating it is for any parent not able to provide life-changing therapy that could help their child live a dignified and meaningful life. How frustrating it is seeing other children growing and progressing and our own children suffering the consequences of neglect by way too many governments for way too many years.

Just last month, former TTUTA President Davanand Sinanan who I met and discussed the needs of autism parents stated:

“We have never acknowledged our responsibility as a State – and I am talking about society here – for special education. It (The responsibility) has been carried by faith-based organisations and NGOs…the State is yet to acknowledge its full and total responsibility with regard to special education.

Registered special education schools to receive gov’t funding

Education Minister Anthony Garcia quickly agreed with that statement and stated that a decision was taken at the Cabinet level to provide assistance to 12 registered special education schools. They would pay teacher’s salaries and cover infrastructural needs for them.

Now, this is an issue that I have addressed multiple times in the media as well as private meetings with those in government. As an autism parent, how does funding special needs schools help ALL children on the spectrum in this country? If only a very minuscule group is able to access them? What about the rest of children? What about the adults? What about the qualification of these teachers? Is there an evaluation process to ensure these schools are run properly or is it that money is going to be thrown at them without any kind of accountability with regards to what happens indoors?

A lot of these schools cater for the physically challenged only and those who cater for children with other disabilities are overcrowded. We are talking about autism here, a neuro-developmental disorder that affects each child differently; this is a UNIQUE condition that needs to be treated in an UNIQUE way. Some of these schools also possess their own criteria as to what kind of child they are able to accept and work with and the list goes on. It is beyond me why any person in authority and with the capacity to do something proper will think giving a handout to schools is the SOLUTION of these issues.

He further more stated that special education is also being attended to even in our mainstream schools. In the same link posted above he stated:

“We have a section in the Ministry of Education that we have been talking about all the time – the Student Support Services Division, and they are actively engaged in providing support to our special needs students. We have in our system what is referred to as ‘students aids’, where persons would sit with some of our students who have special education needs and assist in whatever way they can.

It is either Mr. Garcia trying to say something to portray that the Ministry is actually doing something about these issues or he really does not know what is happening within his ministry. Such casual statements. As APATT’s President, I have received many complaints from parents about Student Support Services NOT providing aides for their children, the lucky ones found aides through their own parents and the ones who did have aides were assisting these children for very short periods of time.

These aides also did not possess proper qualifications to work with children with special needs, in many instances they were OJT personnel staying for a few months. For a child on the spectrum, sudden changes can be very traumatic. You do not provide an aide to a child with autism for four months and then you leave him/her without assistance. What kind of service is that?

Why such a lack of professionalism in the Ministry that is supposed to know better? In my own personal experience, I have been trying unsuccessfully to meet with them to discuss the serious concerns autism parents are faced with daily. So not sure what exactly Mr. Garcia referred to when he said they are “Actively engaged” in providing support, the feedback received disagrees with the statement 100%.

He did not end there; he also stated that special education was now being incorporated into teaching methods at regular schools. Really? As an educator myself, how exactly is this being incorporated? It is very easy to make loose statements such as this without providing the proper details and explanation as to how exactly the Ministry is addressing these issues.

How is it possible that in 2016 there are no public schools that can cater exclusively for children with autism in our country? And I am not talking about a regular special needs school where you have children with physical, mental, social and developmental disorders all crowded in the same place with (In a lot of cases) unqualified teachers and expected to grow and learn.

No, I am talking about a PROPER PUBLIC school that can cater for children on the spectrum with qualified teachers. That’s what is needed, not a handout to a dozen schools that supposedly can cater for the special needs of the entire nation? Is this a joke?

Now, going back to the story of the young lady who helped the differently-abled man… I think it is fantastic this young lady is getting recognized for what she has done…but I cannot help wondering who is talking or asking about the gentleman in the wheelchair who is the one TRULY in need here? Who is he and what kind of help is he receiving/needing? What kind of gift or assistance did he receive?

Why is it too much to ask that PROPER assistance be rendered to children with autism in Trinidad & Tobago? The emphasis should be on PROPER, NOT a handout thinking it solves the problem. It does NOT.

I want every single child in this country to access schools and therapy free of charge. These are NEEDS, not WANTS. And no one can tell me this is a case of “give me give me” welfare or begging… and that we need to “wean of” government. Excuse me? If anyone talks like that, they do not know or understand the responsibilities of any government. That’s what taxes are for and like thousands of people in this country, parents of children with autism are tax payers and if they are not going to use our taxes to invest on proper education and health care to address the desperate needs of our children, then where exactly will the money be going?

Let’s make something very clear. We, parents of children with autism, are not begging. We are asking what is RIGHTFULLY already of our children. Is any government ready to take care of adults who were unable to receive therapy and education as children due to neglect on their part? The answer is simple: NO.

Things will continue be the same as long as those who can change it all are immune to the pain and suffering of others and whose arrogance surpasses compassion.

But they are picture-ready.

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Maria Sol Borde

Author: Maria Sol Borde

I am a Mom of 3 wonderful Kings, all on the Autism Spectrum. No, it isn't a typo. As you can imagine, life is never boring around here.

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