DR RADICA MAHASE
“I always knew something was wrong with my son but it took me years before I was able to find someone to formally diagnose him with autism. When the diagnosis came I felt a sense of relief; like I finally had something to help me understand this unique little person.
“My husband didn’t care whether he was diagnosed or not, he didn’t see any point to it. He said that labelling our son won’t help him in anyway; it’s not like there’s anything in Trinidad to help him after he’s diagnosed.”
Stacy and her husband Ishmael had differing opinions on having their child formally labelled with a specific diagnosis. Many parents end up diagnosing their children because they recognise that their children have developmental issues and they just want to know what are their specific issues so they can help their children in whatever ways possible.
Although parents may not want to diagnose and label their children the system forces them to. Dr Jessica Glass Kendorski, a professor and psychologist specialising in developmental therapies and special needs education notes that, “Labels are important in our current medical and educational systems. It entitles individuals to resources by determining the distribution of funding and services.”
We see this here in TT where access to an inclusive education along with teacher’s aides and other educational tools are dependent on a formal diagnosis. Within the education system a diagnosis helps to determine the specific intervention and help that the child needs in order to excel at his/her level. It would inform the Individual Educational Plan (IEP) and determine what extra support the child needs. The same applies to access to social welfare assistance. If parents want to access the limited resources available in TT they must show “proof” that their child has special needs and this “proof” is usually in the form of an official diagnosis.
One of the biggest disadvantages of labelling a child is that everything this child does is now seen through that label. A diagnosis and/or a label can lead to very narrow expectations of the child. In an education setting is might translate into teachers believing that a child with special needs cannot excel academically.