DR RADICA MAHASE
BRANDON is ten years old and is low-functioning on the autism spectrum. He requires constant attention and his mother, who is a single parent, is forced to stay at home and care for him. A couple of years ago he was attending one of the Government-run schools for children with special needs, but as he got older, he started to show signs of behavioural issues and the school could not accommodate him any more.
His mother was told he needed behavioural therapy and when he settles down the school will take him back. It took her five months to raise $3,500 for the assessment. Once Brandon was assessed, she was told that he had to attend two sessions of therapy per week, each one-hour long, at $300 per session. She was unable to afford the sessions as well as the cost of hiring a car to take Brandon on the two-hour trip to San Fernando, twice a week. Brandon never got the therapy he needed and he has been home since then.
Brandon has a very special diet and his mother supplements his diet with a nutritious drink and vitamins. He suffers with regular ear infections and often ends up at the San Fernando General Hospital. As a single mother, who has to care full-time for Brandon, his mother received the public assistance grant of $1,150 and a food card valued at $410. Brandon’s uncle gives them $1,500 every month. Thus, their total income for the month is $3,060. His mother lives in a small apartment downstairs her parents’ home so she doesn’t have to pay rent or utility bills; her biggest expenses every month is on food, especially given Brandon’s special needs, transport and medicine.
October is turning out to be a very rough month for Brandon and his mom. Brandon has been ill since the beginning of September and his mom has been back and forth to the hospital with him. He was admitted to the paediatrics ward for two nights. She had to purchase some of the medicines as the hospital did not have them. What made everything worst is that in the middle of September she was informed by her social welfare officer that both the public assistance grant and the food card were to be cut at the end of the month. Without any warning she was placed in a situation where she had to survive on $1,500 a month and she could hardly cover Brandon’s needs.
Sadly, Brandon and his mom’s story are not unique to them alone. There are many other children, with autism and other special needs who are in Brandon’s situation. There are other parents, like Brandon’s mother, who can barely afford basic needs. Brandon’s mother is very willing to go out to work but then other issues come up – who will understand Brandon’s needs enough to be able to take care of Brandon, how she will afford to pay for someone to take care of him ?
Unfortunately, when the government made the decision to cut the grants, it obviously did not take into consideration the fate of children like Brandon, children who were dependant on these grants and who could only survive because of these grants. All too often, governments make decisions with no informed research. There is a lack of understanding and empathy for the people who receive these grants. In most cases, the policymakers, those who call the shots, are far removed from situations like Brandon and his mother’s. Even if social workers are empathetic and want to help, their hands are tied as decisions come from the top.
Brandon’s mom was told to reapply for the newly-structured disability grant at the end of January 2019. But what happens from now till then? When she applies, she will have to wait another few months to know if it is approved and then to receive payment. How is she supposed to feed her child and cover the cost of his medical care in the meantime? When individuals, like Brandon’s mom, are placed in these kinds of situations it shows the failure of the Government to provide for its most vulnerable citizens. The Government has a responsibility to provide for all of its citizens otherwise we might as well say, “here, not everyone finds an equal place.”
Dr Radica Mahase is founder/director,
Support Autism T&T