DR RADICA MAHASE
DEAR candidates running for seats in the general election, I am a father of twin boys. They are 12 and they were both diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
In case you don’t know autism is a lifelong condition, so it won’t go away and nobody can cure it.
It means that my boys will always have autism. As a parent, it is my duty to provide the best care possible for them so that they can learn to function independently.
For me to do that, I need to have a good support system. I have the best family support system anyone can ask for. I come from a large family. I have four brothers and four sisters, all of whom are married and have children. My siblings and their children play an active role in my children’s lives. I also have a strong support system in my local church where everyone comes together to help us.
The point I am trying to make is this – when you start to campaign in my area, you need to come with more than the usual political nonsense otherwise you won’t get my vote or the vote of any entire community. The special needs population might not be significant throughout TT but special needs support is significant in my little community.
That means, if you are campaigning in my community and we ask you what are your plans for people with special needs, please don’t say vague things like "Special needs is next on my agenda" or, "Of course we’re thinking about your children and others like them." When you say things like that it simply tells us that you have no real interest in people with special needs but you’re trying to bluster your way through your campaign and you think that we’re stupid enough to fall for that. Please engage with us, your voting population on a deep and thoughtful level, not a superficial one.
Also, please note that my children are not there as photo ops to make you look good. In the last general election both candidates from the two major political parties were walking about in my community and for some reason they believed that my family was just standing there waiting to take pictures with them. My children are not to be used to make you appear more child-friendly or special-needs-oriented.
Additionally, can you please do some research about individuals with special needs before you go on your walkabouts. Any candidate who comes up to me and says, "Oh, your children are not well,’ or, "What’s wrong with them?" automatically loses my vote. Worse yet if I tell you my sons have autism and you ask me what that is.
Come on, as a political candidate, educate yourself about different types of special needs and how to interact with people with disabilities so at least you will sound educated. Nobody is saying you have to go and do a PhD on it, but at least have some level of understanding about people who are different please.
Another thing I want to tell you is to listen to us. I mean really listen to what we have to say. I understand that when you are walking around and campaigning you want to cover as many areas as possible. But when I meet you, a political candidate, and I introduce you to my son and that candidate asks about them, then have the decency to stop for a few minutes and really listen to me answering your question.
Last week, a candidate passed around and asked me if my sons normally attend school. In the middle of explaining to him that they have been out of school for the past five years, the man turned around to talk to someone else and forget about me. I mean, what is the point in asking me about them if you have no interest in listening to my answers?
I say again, you might think that parents like me, who have children with autism, are few and far apart, but don’t fool yourself. The number of people with disabilities might be small but our support system is bigger than you imagine. And if you don’t even know anything about special needs people; if you don’t have any idea of what you can do to make my child’s future brighter, than believe me, you ain’t getting my vote or the vote of my entire community.