Special Needs Schools In Trinidad And Tobago

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Authored by: Maria Borde

Pages: 1, 2

Written by: Mountain of Sand - 16th May, 2015 - 9:10pm Autism Issues
According to the UN Convention on the rights of the child, a fundamental right for ALL children regardless of their background is making education accessible to them. Educational instruction must also be of good quality as well as gratuitous so impoverished families can also benefit.

The Honourable Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar recently said during the Paramin R.C. Primary School Opening: "Education is the single most important element that secures our ability to continue and progress...We will not rest until every child in Trinidad and Tobago has the quality education they deserve."

How is this universal right being fulfilled with regards to children with autism? What is the government doing to ensure they fulfill this VERY important and VITAL responsibility?

You see, we do not live in a country where you can simply open a phone book and see a list of special needs schools and automatically know they have caring teachers with the right qualifications through a degree in special education and of course, the experience, to teach your autistic child. The reality is far worse… it is more like a trial and error experiment in a mad-scientist’s laboratory and your children are the guinea pigs - and to boot, you must pay for it.

It is so bad that you are forced to choose between the least of the evils and you even start unconsciously justifying the way they run their operations compared to other special needs schools you have visited.

“They are not sooo bad. At least they just slap the children and they do not beat them hard”.

“They are not sooo bad. Yes, teachers do not have the right qualifications but at least the Principal does”.

“They are not sooo bad. They charge $10,000TT a term. The other schools charge $16,000TT a term!”.

“They are not sooo bad. No school is perfect… at least my child gets some time away from home”.


And the list goes on.

For parents with children under the autism spectrum and let’s face it, parents of any other special needs children in general, finding a school that can properly cater for their needs in Trinidad and Tobago is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. They tend to say their teachers are qualified, but having a Bachelor’s degree does not make you qualified to teach special needs students. Being the Principal of a school and having the right qualifications while the teachers do not possess the same, does not qualify the school or the teachers. The people working with special needs students must possess a degree in special education or have a post-graduate certification in special education to be qualified.

In the US taking California as an example, someone who possesses a Bachelor’s degree in any subject area must enter an accredited teacher preparation program or credential program with an emphasis in special education to qualify as a special needs teacher. For a clear credential, educators must also complete an Approved Special Education Induction Program as well as meet other requirements. Source 3

Is it that we think because this is Trinidad and Tobago our children do not deserve qualified teachers? Is it because this is Trinidad and Tobago we must accept the mediocrity that wants to be imposed to us while we pay for these "Services"?

I hear there are no places in Trinidad where someone can study to become a special needs educator. The University of Trinidad and Tobago offers a Bachelor’s degree in education with one of the programs having the choice of specialization in special education Source 5. CREDI also offers a Bachelor’s degree In Special Education along with a workshop with current issues such as dyslexia, autism and physical handicaps Source 1.

In the University of the Southern Caribbean a person could obtain a Bachelor’s degree and then obtain a Master of Arts in Educational Psychology with emphasis in Special Education Source 8 .The options are out there. Do not allow others to convince you otherwise.

As a matter of fact, according to Davanand Sinanan, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) there are teachers who graduate from the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) with Bachelor’s degrees in education (BEd) who specialize in children with special needs, but these teachers are absorbed into the regular school system and are not given the chance to work with children they are trained to help simply because the government has not created yet the post of "Special Needs Teacher". What are they waiting for to create that post? Source 8. There are hundreds of qualified special needs educators who are anxiously waiting to work with special needs students and they are not giving that opportunity. Source 4

Let's face it, a lot of these special needs schools are actually day-care services, mostly because the persons who are supposed to teach your children are untrained, they do not know exactly what to do so they sit with your child to build a puzzle, they sing a few songs during circle time and they color together like they do with your neuro-typical children. But when your child is perhaps in the lower functioning part of the spectrum, how do these untrained teachers handle the situation when they have a meltdown and they are screaming, kicking and biting?

When their sensory issues are all over the place, do they know exactly what to do? When intensive intervention is desperately needed, these schools just simply don’t cut it unless we think that leaving a non-verbal child sitting down for hours doing every day the same activities without challenging them because nobody believes that they can do more...or left unengaged or stimulated in any way is some sort of unknown-recent therapy that I am not aware of. Nope, a little song here and there and a slice of pizza with a chubby to keep them quiet does not count.

As we know, the spectrum is very wide that even though a lot of our children can perhaps function well in a mainstream school with the help of a qualified aide, getting THAT qualified aide in the first place with the help of the government it is like starring as Tom Cruise in one of those Mission Impossible movies.

Mind you, these aides are only for those children in the higher-functioning end of the spectrum, the rest cannot even make it to mainstream schools. But the government spends billions funding FREE education for neuro-typical children from Pre-school level up to University educational-level and yet the often forgotten children under the autism spectrum do not even have a public school they can attend. But the promises over the years and the meetings about special needs education certainly do not stop coming.

Is it an unreasonable request that the government fulfill its responsibility to take care of ALL their citizens? Is it an unreasonable request to expect that every special needs child in the country can have a qualified teacher and aide to help him/her reach their full potential? Is it an unreasonable request to expect the government to build the first public school for children under the autism spectrum? Who is going to stand for what is right instead of just giving up and do nothing, thinking that no change could ever come?

I do not believe ANY of these things are unreasonable requests. But let me tell you what the unreasonable requests are:

1. Expecting parents to pay unreasonable fees for unqualified educational centers or intervention programs because they know that parents have very few options IF any.

2. Expecting parents to send their children to mainstream schools without the help of a qualified aide and subject the child to higher level of stress and anxiety when they are unable to cope.

3. Expecting parents to choose between any of these places and turn a blind-eye to the many issues they have.

4. Expecting parents to send their children to unqualified therapists or in trainee therapists who pass themselves as qualified, taking full advantage of parents who might not be very familiar with the proper terms and qualifications. As an example, to become an ABA therapist and START the process of certification, a person must possess at least a Master’s Degree in behavior analysis or other natural science, education, human services, engineering, medicine or a field related to behavior analysis AND approved by the BACB (Behavioral Analyst Certification Board). Source 6 Also new changes have been in effect since January 1, 2015 Source 8

5. Expecting parents to pay to Non-Profit organizations (Oh the irony!) and charitable entities (Double irony!) for private/individual therapies for their children.

And last but not least: Expect parents to accept ALL of the above, to be grateful and stay quiet. *This* parent certainly will not. My advocacy for children under the autism spectrum has just begun.
Written by: Guest - 17th May, 2015 - 1:13am Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Nirmala

Title: Special needs schools.

Comments: What a great blog post! You said it so well, these are the things we should be fighting for instead of all the nonsense we argue about on a daily basis. Great cause, please continue blogging!
Written by: Guest - 17th May, 2015 - 11:41am Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Joanna

Topic: Schools

Comments: You just read my mind. This is how I feel about special needs schools. People don't understand when I tell them I agree with inclusion but not every autistic child can make it to normal schools. My God when are we going to get a school for our children.
Written by: Guest - 17th May, 2015 - 11:45am Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Mom123

Topic: Qualifications

Comments: I would like to add that qualifications are very important because in Trinidad we accept whatever is given to us without complaining we're very laid back but also we need teachers who care and not those who just want our money.
Written by: Guest - 17th May, 2015 - 11:51am Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Tricia

Topic: Special Needs Schools

Comments: It is true every child deserves the right of education. The real problem with Trinidad & Tobago is the attitudes of teachers not all but a few of them who are quick to say home school the child.

Trinidad is too focus with assessment and the MOE needs a revamping we need to involve more specialist involvement and assistive devices.

Change will come we need to change our attitudes put our children first and the exceptionality after...
Written by: Guest - 17th May, 2015 - 7:27pm Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Kala

Topic: Special Needs Schools

Comments: Great job as ever. Only to add that many spec ed-trained teachers have little or no training on how to handle behavioural issues.

The TEACCH approach offers structure which are tasks placed for the students to complete.ABA addresses not only addresses behaviour, but uses it as a tool in the learning process.

Keep up the good work. I've just put together something on what an autism class should look like, will be in the Central Beat Newspaper soon. Also, will follow up that with a short piece on the ideal elements of of ABA, TEACCH, SALT and OT as arguably the best way forward for teaching kids on the spectrum.
Written by: Guest - 17th May, 2015 - 7:43pm Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: JB

Topic: Special Needs Schools

Comments: Millions spent by government on education for neuro-typicals because they have the potential to make T&T proud, but not so much faith in children with autism, as CITIZENS they don't count because they might likely be seen by government as a future burden to society

In some European countries they have adopted this mindset, let's hope T&T does not follow this path. The revered writer George Bernard Shaw quote:

international QUOTE
“You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world; who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there, and say, now sir or madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence?

If you can’t justify your existence; if you’re not pulling your weight in the social boat; if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then clearly we cannot use the big organisation of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us, and it can’t be of very much use to yourself”


So this is not something new. Governments and society do not acknowledge special needs persons in society.
Written by: Guest - 18th May, 2015 - 2:03am Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Tamika

Topic: Schools

Comments: Excellent work. I agree with everything you just wrote here. My daughter needs an aide and we have been waiting for 2 years now with no response from SSS.

Written by: Guest - 18th May, 2015 - 2:46am Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Adrian

Title: Experience

Comments: As a parent of an autistic child, I can say that I have had some interesting experiences concerning schooling for my son and the minimal interest given by the Ministry of Education.

In fact the MOE only got involved after I wrote a few letters of complaint and to this day (3 years later) there has been no plan put forward to me by the MOE nor specifically Student Support Services other than a promise that he is "In line"; for an aide.

The major issue, as I see it, is that as fast as someone becomes trained in specialist programs they then leave Government service either to become a private contractor or leave Trinidad for
"Greener pastures".

My son is being treated in speech and language therapy by a professional who studied and worked in the US before returning home. This lady also helped with his behaviour especially tantrums and making eye contact. I was lucky to have found this person, but we were referred by the Children's Development Clinic at Mt Hope.

The last time we had an appointment at Mt Hope was over a year ago and they recommend seeing us every 3 months but the next available appointment was made for 2 years later, so clearly the system is overwhelmed.

I am always surprised by the amount of people there when we get to an appointment since even though we get there at 8am we rarely see the doctor until almost 2pm.

My son is now in a mainstream school and it took 4 years of struggle to get to that stage with many multiple weekly therapy sessions and changing of private and public schools until we found the one that we were pleased with.

Then he improved enough that a mainstream public school principal agreed to take him in and he has been doing relatively well because his teachers have approached his situation with an open mind.
Written by: Guest - 18th May, 2015 - 2:55am Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Stacia

Title: Lack of governmental support

Comments: You are a courageous woman taking the time to create a beautiful site like this. I read all your words with great anticipation hoping that it might reach someone in authority that can make the change. I must admit that I'm a bit pessimistic because after trying on my own for so long I am beginning to think that Trinidad is unfriendly towards children with autism and any other challenge for that matter. You are like my bit of hope that someone else is also going through the same things I am, so I'm not alone.
Written by: Guest - 20th May, 2015 - 1:50am Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Allyson

Title: Information

Comments: Hi there, I read your blog and you make some very good points [...] I am a mother of an autistic child who is pursuing a study in autism behaviour here in Canada.

If you are wondering I moved here eight years ago as there was no support for my son at home in Trinidad. He is currently enrolled in public school and mainstreamed in the true sense. [...]

lt is true what you said, you meet one child with autism you have not met them all nor will you ever.

With regards to education the educational assistants in Trinidad are not properly trained nor do they have the foresight and initiative.

The teachers are a different matter. They claim they know what autism looks like yet they did not see it in my son who is a high functioning child.

Trinidad lags way behind support kids with developmental needs and some how they are reluctant to accept help from those who know. Anyways, keep blogging. Cheers.
Written by: Mountain of Sand - 20th May, 2015 - 2:27am Autism Issues
Thank you so much for all your comments so far and for sharing your experiences! As parents, we are on this together and I assure you, I will not stop advocating for our children.

Allyson, you can read reviews of local services and organisations here:

Source 2c

Hope this information is helpful for what you are looking for.

Written by: Guest - 20th May, 2015 - 6:51pm Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Diana

Title: Special need education

Comments: Thanks so much for this I thought I was the only one who feel lost as to how my autistic son would survive in this world without good education. All my saving spent towards his schooling and nothing was learned. I am a stay home mom and teaching him my self from different online programmes trying every sp school turned away cause of lack of teachers its sad that these government talk more and do less. I hurt when I see how much he can do and no one willing to help. Hope your blog make a difference. Thanks again.
Written by: Guest - 23rd May, 2015 - 1:11am Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Jennifer

Title: Special needs schools

Comments: Great job full support for this its very important and desperately needed. I have a nephew that I love dearly and I would for him to have the opportunity to shine.
Written by: Guest - 15th Jun, 2015 - 8:17pm Mountain of Sand Blog Archive
Name: Peter

Title: Advocacy

Comments: Excellent work. I think we need to rally like-minded people to advocate on behalf of these children in a very forceful way. Yes, our children NEED and DESERVE every opportunity to grow, develop and blossom in their own way. The country has the financial, intellectual and institutional resources to deliver what is required, but we need to be much more vocal and visible advocates on behalf of our children!
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