THURSDAY’S commemoration of World Down Syndrome Day was marked by a bevy of imaginative activities. Even members of the San Fernando City Council, including Mayor Junia Regrello, were photographed wearing colourful socks in support of the cause. These activities, which also came ahead of next Tuesday’s observance of World Autism Day, all underline the need for the State to pay greater attention to children with developmental issues and disabilities.
Any education system worth its salt should be able to cater to the needs of all children. Teachers, if they are doing their job right, should be cognisant of sensitivities relating to their students and should have the tools to identify those who require special attention.
But that’s in an ideal world.
And the extent of the problem is such that ordinary resources may not be able to do the trick.
For instance, community paediatric clinics in the South-West Regional Health Authority report that 90 per cent of referrals are for children with developmental concerns and disabilities. Forty per cent of patient work pertains to children on the autism spectrum; 20 per cent, ADHD, and the remaining 40 per cent, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and other developmental conditions.
This suggests the issue is perhaps more prevalent that we tend to think.
The State has to do a better job of tailoring the education system to suit. But it also has to invest more in medical facilities that deal with these issues.
The Government should support the work of NGOs like the Down Syndrome Family Network, the Autistic Society of TT, the Autism Parents Association of TT, and the Blue Horse Foundation.
We praise all those who help to raise awareness.
In this regard, we must congratulate the national Special Olympics team which brought home 19 gold, 15 silver, and 22 bronze medals. The inspiration the team has provided is staggering.
Independent Senator Paul Richards’ recent private motion calling on the Government to commit more resources to children with special needs in the education sector, while welcome, was a missed opportunity for Parliament to deal with the question of efficacy of current measures that are in place.
Richards was correct to suggest some pieces of the puzzle are missing. And Education Minister Anthony Garcia was also correct to list the various measures that have been implemented. (Though his awkward language in the debate was regrettable.)
But as pointed out by Dr Radica Mahase, founder/director of Support Autism T&T, what was missing was an assessment of educational opportunities available for those with special needs and the difference between what exists in theory and their effectiveness in practice. Additionally, we say such an analysis should also consider the differing needs of children with different conditions.
In the end, special needs require a special effort. And that’s what’s currently missing.