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Sunday 18 August 2019
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Letters to the Editor

The reality of special needs education in TT

THE EDITOR: On March 12, the Minister of Education chose to respond to a motion by Senator Paul Richards indicating that, “This ministry and this Government is cognisant of our responsibility where children who are afflicted with special needs are concerned and we are doing everything possible to ensure that their needs are taken care of adequately.”

Without specifically stating it, he insinuated that the motion presented by Richards was without merit and the senator was presenting such a motion “fully aware of what the Ministry of Education and this Government are doing in the field of education for this country.”

Since this situation seems to be completely under control, I would like to highlight a few facts and concerns that may paint a different picture.

1. If there are available resources for special needs children, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the ministry would also have a comprehensive analysis of children diagnosed with special needs, as well as info related to their specific challenges, IEPs, requests for aides etc? Why have these statistics never been made public?

Why do parents wait for years before giving up on their request for an aide? Perhaps because they don’t exist and if you don’t know how many children are affected, then repeatedly mentioning the 12 public special needs schools and 13 private schools is irrelevant because you cannot adequately show that the number of schools is sufficient.

2. Is 25 schools a sufficient number for a country of our size? Again, the only way to determine the answer is with a comprehensive analysis of how many children are diagnosed with special needs and their specific challenges and requirements in order to achieve an education.

When the minister mentions this magical number of 25, he fails to elaborate on the range of special needs and exactly which schools are capable of nurturing which disabilities. He clumps handicapped, blind, deaf, autistics, people with Down syndrome and people with cerebral palsy all under the same umbrella of special needs when the reality is that each disability must be treated separately, if the goal is success.

For the benefit of the general public, there are zero public schools with the training and resources required to educate an autistic child.

3. If the system is presently so efficient, why is it that with less than two weeks to the SEA exam, children who have applied for concessions are still unaware as to whether these concessions have been granted? Why have some parents been informed that the concessions have been refused without explanation?

Why has a specific special needs school that Minister Anthony Garcia referred to been refused almost half of their applications? Why is it that some parents have been informed that they will receive notification three days before the exam – on April 1? Obviously the ministry’s futile attempt at an April Fools joke!

And for the general public to better understand, an autistic child will often request the services of an aide for the day of the exam. The reality is that the parents would have applied for an aide five years prior to have been a constant in their education. Since that never came to fruition, they’re at least hoping they’ll get approval for exam day.

An autistic child, who will likely have serious social communication issues, will now be thrown into further disarray meeting a complete stranger, who is going to guide them through this crucial testing day.

Obviously these questions would be extremely easy to answer for the minister and I look forward to hearing his responses of the efficiencies of his ministry.

MICHELLE FOREMAN

co-founder, Autism Spirit

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