DR RADICA MAHASE
“I don’t think TT will ever reach the state where my child will ever be treated equally. This country just doesn’t care about persons with special needs. My child has autism and most people look at him and feel sorry for him or feel sorry that I have a child like him. I don’t need people to feel sorry, I just want the same access to education and health and everything else that other children have and I will take care of my child. I don’t need sympathy, I don’t need handouts, and I don’t need to beg people to help me all the time. I just want access to opportunities for my child.”
Why is it so difficult to grasp the concept of equal opportunities in our country? Why are parents and caregivers always made to feel that their children are not as important as "normal" children? Why are individuals with specials needs always seen as different, as incomplete in some way, as if though being different is weird and wrong?
This may be so because generally individuals with special needs are not seen as viable members of society. There is a general misconception that they are a burden on society and that they cannot contribute in any real way towards our country’s development. This is an unfair assessment. This general misconception comes from the fact that because there are limited access to equal opportunities for those with special needs, they are not given a chance to develop their full potential and many are forced to stay home most of their lives, unable to contribute to society.
A good example is those children with special needs who do not have access to an education. Another example is those adults with autism who cannot access employment opportunities because companies and businesses are unwilling to hire them. If they are given the opportunities to develop their unique skills and talents and allowed to seek gainful employment opportunities or training opportunities in they can indeed be a valuable addition to TT.
As one parent Kareena noted, “My son is 23 years old. He finished secondary school with five subjects. He’s good with numbers so he can do maths and accounts really well. For the past five years we have been applying for jobs for him all over but nobody wants to hire him. One business had hired him but after a couple of weeks they let him go because the manager complained that he can’t waste his time training people like that. People don’t have patience with those with autism, they’re not willing to spend a little more time training them or helping them. It’s very frustrating for my son to stay at home. He wants to work and he’s capable of working and it’s unfair that he doesn’t have access to employment opportunities like other adults his age.”
On another level, there is very limited equal access to opportunities for those with autism and other special needs because those in government, those in the position to create and enforce policies to cater to individuals with special needs, they just don’t see this group as important enough. There is the general saying that politicians won’t take up a cause unless it hits near to home, that is unless they have children (or some relative) with special needs.
It might be more than that though, it might also be because the many politicians in TT do not belong to the lower income group; they do not empathise with people who are struggling on a daily basis. When you belong to the upper middle classes/upper classes and you have children/relatives with special needs you might still be able to afford private schools and therapies. But when you belong to lower income brackets, your reality is so much different.
Of course, it can also be that the special needs population is not seen as numerically large enough to influence voting outcome in any significant way. Thus, politicians don’t see the need to allocate resources towards the creation of opportunities for those with Autism/special needs. The thing is, as long as those in power continue to ignore the needs of the special needs population the vicious cycle continues – lack of access to equal opportunities means that this group will continue to be marginalised and invisible; individuals with special needs will not be able to develop their full potentials and become viable contributors in society.
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director, Support Autism T&T