DR RADICA MAHASE
“My son loves Christmas! But he’s nine years old and which nine-year-old don’t love Christmas? Every year I make sure that my child gets something nice for Christmas. Santa always surprises him on Christmas morning with a present and the present is usually something that he wanted all year or something that he can use to help him develop. But this year I had to tell him that Santa might not come. He gets upset when I say that but I have to keep telling him that so that when he wakes up on Christmas morning and doesn’t get a special present like he does every year; he will understand that Santa did not make it this year."
Janelle, single mother to nine-year-old Jamari, is just one of many parents in TT who cannot afford to give their child a good Christmas this year. She is just one of many special-needs parents who had to use her limited resources to provide the basic necessities for her child. So much so, that a present is seen as a luxurious item.
“It breaks my heart to do this to my son but I am a single mother and I lost my only source of income in March when bars were closed. Since then, I don’t have a steady income. I keep trying to get a little hustle – sometimes I might get to clean someone’s house for a half day or I might get two days packing bags in the grocery nearby, and I will stretch that money to cover Jamari’s food and medication. He only eats about four different foods because of his autism. He is sensitive to most things and I have to give him PediaSure and vitamins to make sure he gets enough nutrients. This is what costs most of the money I work for.
"Every year I will start putting aside a little bit of money from early in the year so that by the time Christmas reach I will buy something good for him. Last year I saved and bought him a set of picture and music books and that kept him occupied for months. Two years ago, I managed to buy him a tablet and he used to watch videos on it and he started saying a lot more words and sometimes even sentences."
Janelle said Jamari hasn’t been attending school for the past two years.
"He was attending the primary school nearby but they said they could not keep him unless he started behaving better. I can’t afford to take him for behavioural therapy and as he gets older, he gets meltdowns more so I couldn’t get him back into the school. So, I try to buy educational things for him, things that I can teach him with at home. I am usually home with him on mornings and in the evening when I went to work in a bar not far away, my mom will help me with him. On weekends, too, she would stay with him so I could work, but then the bar closed and things got real hard. My mom would try to help but her income is her pension so I just kept looking for a little hustle where I could."
She said whatever money she earns is to feed him and to pay bills.
"A couple of times I got hampers from people and an uncle helped once but I can’t ask anyone to buy a present for my child, not the kind of present that I would save and buy for him. I bought two little trucks for him, just so he will still have a present to open on Christmas morning but I know he will lose interest in those after ten minutes. It’s just that that’s all I could afford. I know that he understands me because although he doesn’t speak, I see him getting agitated. So, I just have to keep telling him that Santa might not come this year so maybe he will be okay then.”
Covid19 restrictions means that many parents see a bleak Christmas coming up. Some will cut back on basic items just to give their children good presents; some will depend on hampers and toy drives if possible; and some will go without. If it is within your means, please give to a child this Christmas, for, as Charles Schulz said, “Christmas is doing a little extra for someone.”
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T