DR RADICA MAHASE
BRITISH poet Alfred Tennyson said, “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come. Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”
The advent of a new year signifies hope, change and new opportunities for so many. And as we approach a new year, here are some of the things that I hope for autism and special needs in general in TT.
− The creation of employment opportunities for adults with autism.
According to Paul, “I am capable of working. But nobody wants to hire me. I keep applying all over and I keep getting rejected. I can function in a work environment and if someone will give me the chance I can prove that I will do a good job!”
If every business place employs just one individual with special needs it will be giving an extremely marginalised section of the TT population the hope of leading more fulfilling lives as independent adults.
− The Ministry of Education’s inclusive education policy takes flight.
This year the ministry held a series of consultations, etc, with the intention of transforming a ten-year-old inclusive education policy from paper into reality. I have hope that this transformation will occur and the policy will be implemented. Then some of our children with various special needs can access an education within the public education system, with the correct tools for development, trained teachers and administrators and a sensitisation programme that will help their fellow students understand and accept them.
− Special needs become a regular feature of our national political campaigns.
As TT prepares for a general election I hope that political parties will include those with special needs at all levels. Sadly, most politicians only give lip service to real issues in order to win votes. They do not see the special needs population as numerically significant to
influence voting outcomes and thus they do not include them either in their party’s manifesto or as part of their campaign team.
It is my hope that some genuine politicians will take up the issues of the special needs population in the 2020 general election.
− Timely access to diagnosis and therapy services within the public health care system. Sadly, parents/caregivers struggled in 2019 to get their children diagnosed within the public health care system. They continued to pay exorbitant fees to diagnose their children in private practices with the same development paediatricians who are employed in the hospitals.
According to one parent, “I made an appointment in the paediatric clinic in San Fernando because I know that my child wasn’t developing as she should. I got an appointment for four months and when I took her a paediatrician said nothing was wrong with her. My child is four years old and cannot talk and he told me nothing is wrong with her. I paid $1,500 to get her diagnosed privately by another paediatrician who is also one of the doctors in that same clinic.”
I hope that in 2020 the Ministry of Health addresses parents' concerns and adopts a more serious approach to diagnosis and providingspeech and occupational therapy for those with autism/ other special needs.
− The creation of more sporting activities for those with special needs.
This year the TT Special Olympics team won 56 medals in the 15th Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi. We have so many talented sportspersons amongst the special needs population and it is truly wonderful that they can represent TT successfully at international events.
However, we need to promote a variety of sports for all ages and in all geographic areas of our country so that every individual with special needs can have equitable access to sporting opportunities.
− The creation of opportunities for individuals with special needs.
Unfortunately, the TT society is not always accepting or inclusive of those with special needs. I hope that in 2020, we can make a better attempt to develop sensitisation programmes, to create more public activities for those with special needs and to develop more inclusive activities, events and programmes with the hope that interaction with those with autism/special needs will lead to better understanding, acceptance and inclusion.
As Oprah Winfrey said, “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” Let’s get it right in 2020 so that every individual with autism/special needs will have equal opportunity to lead a fulfilling life. Happy New Year from the Support Autism T&T family!
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director, Support Autism T&T