Wednesday 24 April, 2019

Parents: No room for autistic children in public schools

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

Public schools are not equipped to cater to the needs of children on the autism spectrum.

Parents of children on the autism spectrum have been sharing their views on what they say is a lack of inclusiveness in the facilities offered at the nation’s schools following an incident in which a child of school age on the autism spectrum was injured in a four-storey fall at her family’s Maloney apartment.

The 11-year-old girl was not enrolled in a school, prompting the Education Minister to question the reason behind her non-enrolment at a school.

He expressed confusion as to why she was not attending school as he said there are facilities equipped to accommodate her.  

Following views shared by the Autism Parents’ Association of Trinidad and Tobago (APATT) that children on the autism spectrum are being denied a right to an education, parents from the group Autism Spirit have shared their take on the accommodations offered at public schools in T&T.

Sharing her thoughts with A Very Special Disabilities Forum, parent Michelle Foreman says there are no public schools that accommodate these children and private schools are few and expensive, citing costs of $5000 to $20,000 plus per term.

She lamented that in the case of her son, the limited options available would prevent him from being able to write the Secondary Entrance Assessment exam.

“I spent countless days, phone calls and visits to the Ministry and was categorically told that there are no options available. When I started researching as to what accommodations Joaquin could access in order to do SEA, I realised that dysgraphia is not recognised and he may or may not be allowed a scribe, but ONLY on the day of the exam.

How then can he learn anything in the school environment that the Ministry provides if he is unable to physically write on a daily basis to keep up with the extent of school work?” the frustrated parent questioned.

She said she has had to pass up job opportunities because of her commitment to her child, who she has no choice but to homeschool.

“We homeschool, not because we want to. But because we don't have a choice… when you're not in the trenches, it's easy to turn a blind eye and then pass judgement and think that life is buttercups and rainbows and there are schools and funding for therapy and all those perks.

“Miss me please with the BS!”

Another parent, Tracy Hutchinson Wallace, took Education Minister Anthony Garcia to task for his comments, saying that providing accommodation for children on the autism spectrum was more than simply putting a desk and chair in a class.  

Stressing the need for the appropriate support, services, and accommodations necessary to facilitate successful teaching and learning, Hutchinson Wallace said students are expected to learn and grow to their fullest potential and it requires more than basic infrastructure.

“For neurotypicals, this means chairs, tables, writing implements, subject teachers and infrastructure, at a very basic level. For the Autistic community, you absolutely need to add more than this - aides, special classrooms and support rooms for sensory processing overload, specialised pedagogical methodologies, AAC, speech/social pragmatics/occupational etc.”

“The Minister seems to think that providing a desk and a chair in a class of 30 kids is enough. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.

The Ministry recently compiled a draft education policy paper 2017-2022 following rounds of consultation with stakeholders, which has been sent to Cabinet. The new policy pays emphasis on special education.

The draft policy focuses on the six key areas of the education system: management and administration, Early Childhood Care and Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Technical and Vocational Education and Training, and Higher Education.

When contacted, the Ministry said it is in the process of preparing a statement addressing the concerns that public schools cannot accommodate these students and cater to their various needs.

Minister Garcia is on record as having said more emphasis will be placed on ensuring that children with special needs have access to the kind of education they need.

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