DR RADICA MAHASE
Almost every parent and caregiver will tell you that 2020 was a challenging year for their children. Covid19 restrictions disrupted their everyday routines in one way or the other. In some cases, there was a shift to online learning; in other cases there weren’t any opportunities for learning. This disruption had serious repercussions for many children with autism and other special needs and in some cases, parents saw regression in their children’s intellectual development.
In the case of children with special needs, 2020 was a year when many of them were kept at home, more so than before. With schools and therapy services closed, many had nowhere to go.
The mandatory wearing of face masks made trips outside of their homes even more challenging, especially for those with sensory issues who simply could not wear the masks. So 2020 was a year that parents and caregivers struggled to meet the needs of their special needs children, within the constraints imposed by covid19.
One parent of an 11-year-old boy diagnosed with autism said, “Mostly, I did my best in 2020. But I could have done better for my child. I felt like I did not fight for my child enough. When the teacher stopped doing work with him in the online class, because ‘he wasn’t keeping up with the others,’ I told myself that things were different and I started teaching him myself.
"When I look back now, I realised that I should have insisted that he remains in the class and be given work along with his classmates. I realised that I should have spoken to the teacher and the principal and find a way for him to be a part of the class. So 2020 has taught me that no matter what the situation, I need to stand up for my son and fight for him to be treated fairly.
"I am starting 2021 with a reminder that my son has a right to an education and I might have to fight for him to get one.”
Another parent, mother of eight-year-old twin boys, both diagnosed with autism said, 2020 was the year that "my boys were invisible. I kept them home because I couldn’t deal with people’s bad attitude.
"In April I took them to the supermarket with me and Adil had a meltdown and a lady told me how I need to learn to control my children or don’t bring them out in public. She had her daughter with her – the girl was about 12 years old – and apparently she was scared when my son was having a meltdown.
"Instead of explaining to her daughter, the lady started to shout at me. She told me to stay home with my children because they’re frightening others.
"After that incident, every time I had to go to the supermarket, I left them home. I was afraid that something like that will happen again and I really didn’t want to have to deal with it. It’s tiring enough trying to handle my boys, much less to go out and face people who are not understanding.
"But I have made up my mind that 2021 will have to be a different year for my sons. This year I am not going to leave them at home because people might have a problem with them. This year they will go with me wherever I want to take them and if people have a problem, then that’s their problem, not mine. I am not going to hide my children away because society cannot accept them, because people cannot educate themselves or their children about special needs.
"I am usually very respectful when people say things about my children but I am tired of people being disrespectful. If you disrespect my children then don’t expect me to be respectful to you. In 2021, I promise that I will stand up for my boys even more and I will make sure that they are seen and heard. I don’t expect people to accept them, but I am not going to let anybody disrespect them.”
As the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson says, “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier.’”
Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T