During the last budget presentation, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, announced what he referred to as an increase in the disability grants. He stated the age of eligibility will be removed allowing disabled and special needs children under the age of 18 to access it.
He proposed the ceasing of payments under the Special Child Grant ($800) and Public Assistance Grant ($1,150) and to bring the recipients of those programmes under the umbrella of the new disability grant with a monthly assisted-income of $1,500TT.
The Autism Community in T&T has been in the back burner by every single government up to date. The apparent increase in the grant (even though it will not cover more than 3 to 4 therapy sessions for the month) seems to have been a step in the right direction in order to assist families.
I believe in giving praise where praise is due. This announcement and the measure that will be implemented from January 2019 is an outrageous insult to the intelligence of hundreds of Autism families living in Trinidad & Tobago.
Maybe those citizens who are not familiar with the Autism Community and the serious struggles they go through, might believe this façade.
Let me state a few things that Mr. Imbert would probably like to know.
According to a meeting I had with the Disability Unit Director in May, 2018 the Special Child Grant has changed since late April 2018. A means test has been introduced for ALL grants, including the Special Child Grant and Public Assistance Grant.
Some parents were subjected to a means test even before the changes took place officially. A parent cannot access both grants at the same time. On top of this, in order to qualify for this grant you must be living close to or below the poverty line.
Now, some of you might wonder: What is so wrong with introducing a means test if these types of grants are for people in need?
The problems that Autism Parents face every day is the fact that their children do not enjoy the same rights as neuro-typical children do in T&T. For example, they are unable to access free public education with qualified teachers (like all the average children are able to enjoy in this country). They are also unable to access free public therapy which is NOT optional for children with Autism.
So what all of this means? It means that an Autism Parent will have NO choice but to come up somehow with $10,000TT to $22,000TT per term to pay for a private school (where most teachers are not qualified) PLUS find a way to pay $300-$400TT per half an hour sessions for private therapy.
Past and present governments without any shame whatsoever, refuse year after year to take on their responsibility of providing these two basic rights to the citizens with Autism in this country.
Children on the Autism Spectrum need between 25 to 40 hours a week worth of therapy. So this means an Autism Parent will have to find over $60,000TT a MONTH in order to pay for education and therapy.
Of course, parents cannot come up with this money therefore a lot of these children are at HOME without the opportunity of knowing what a school is like or receiving any kind of therapy. We have a lot of single parents among us and some of them are also forced to take these children with them at work because they have no one to look after them.
Of course, this figure does NOT include rent/mortgage, utility bills, food, clothing, etc.
An Autism Parent who earns more than the stipulated maximum income for this new grant, CANNOT for crying out loud, be subjected to a means test when they have these outrageous bills to pay. It is absurd, merciless and inhumane.
It is ridiculous to state that a grant has been increased and yet introduce a stipulation that will stop Autism Parents from obtaining it.
Blocking access to grants and creating unnecessary barriers against the most vulnerable in society causes Autism Parents and their children to continue suffering in a system that does not understand nor wants to meet their needs.
I will continue denouncing any attempt that tries to create the illusion that children with Autism in T&T are being taken care of. Nothing could be further from the truth. And that’s the unvarnished reality of the Autism Community in our country.