I tried to educate my autistic child

Sometimes all it takes is a little more effort by teachers. -  Courtesy  Rahul's Clubhouse
Sometimes all it takes is a little more effort by teachers. - Courtesy Rahul's Clubhouse


“My name is Marlene and I am the parent of a 15-year-old autistic boy. Since Mikey, my son, was three years old I have been trying to educate him! Anybody who thinks that there are equal opportunities for all children in this country is fooling himself. It is so unfair what parents like myself have to go through and it is an injustice for autistic children!

First the problem was with finding a pre-school. I tried four different pre-schools which were located near enough to where I live in Chaguanas and then two in Couva where my husband worked. Half of them said no immediately. The most common reasons we got were, 'we don’t have teachers trained to deal with children like him' or 'he’s not potty train so we can’t take him' and 'we can’t take him if he doesn’t talk.'

All this time that we were searching for a pre-school, I was teaching him and he was learning. I spent hours trying to find information, learning ways to make it fun for him. By age six he was at the level that he needed to be and he could start primary school. Our next set of struggles began – to find a primary school that would take him. We started with the schools in our districts and the responses were disgusting. One principal told me that “children like that can’t learn you know. You should wait for him to grow up and just teach him a trade or something.”

It was then that I realised that I had a long and hard fight ahead if I wanted my child to get an education.

The biggest issue with getting him into a primary school was that he’s non-verbal. The teachers and principals really believed that because he could not talk it meant that he would not be able to learn. Mikey didn’t have any behavioural issues, its just that he didn’t say long sentences –he was still at the level of three words sentences. But he understood everything and he followed instructions. My son was very capable of learning but I couldn’t get the schools to understand that!

Eventually we got him into a school, only because we knew a teacher in that school. She spoke to the principal for us and the principal agreed to take him as long as she was responsible for him. The first couple of months in primary school went well, the kids were new and they were now settling into ‘big school.’ By the end of the term, the bullying started. There was one incident where some of the bigger boys from standard five cornered him in the schoolyard and kept heckling him to talk. They called him 'dumb’ and ‘deaf’ and the more he didn’t answer them, the angrier they got. That incident traumatised him. Every morning he would cry because he didn’t want to go to school. Eventually he settled down and the rest of first year went by.

Every child can learn, if taught appropriately. - Courtesy Rahul's Clubhouse

In second year, he had a new teacher and she acted like it was a burden to teach him. In the first place, she didn’t want him in her class. She told the principal that she didn’t want any ‘dumb’ child in her class. By this time, he was speaking more but his speech was still not at the level of a seven-year-old. When he didn’t like someone, he won’t even say a word so he absolutely refused to answer her in class. The teacher would verbally abuse him – call him names in front the other students – they were little children so when she made fun of him, they would laugh.

We were back and forth with the schools – meetings with the teacher and principal, with the guidance counsellor and school supervisor. The teacher went to her union who supported her claim that she was not qualified to teach him and therefore he should not be in her class. The other second year teacher did the same and we had to take him out because there wasn’t a teacher to teach him.

After that we tried a couple more schools. He lasted one term in one and didn’t want to go after because he was bullied and the teachers refused to do anything about it. They said that 'that’s how boys play; they’re just a bit rough,' never mind that Mikey would come home with bruises and even a buss head once. He attended the last school for only two months. By this time the whole school experience was traumatising for him and it started to show in his behaviour.

When other children came close to him, he would push them. A therapist said that was his way of protecting himself.

Since then, for the past seven years Mikey has been at home. I cannot afford a private school because I left my job to stay home and take care of him. I haven’t given up on him though. I continue to teach him everything that I can – to read and write; to cook; we do a little backyard garden together. The education system in this country is a failure and it is unfair to our autistic children but parents mustn’t give up on their children.

Parents, don’t underestimate your potential to help your child learn. Go online, find resources, research ways to teach your child, work with your child however you can. Don’t let people tell you that your child can’t learn. Don’t give up on your child because some teacher or principal didn’t want to give your child an opportunity. Don’t let your child suffer while you are waiting for our education system to change. Nobody will ever care about your child more than you, so do what you can and teach your child what you can.”

Dr Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T


"I tried to educate my autistic child"

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