Today, July 15th 2019 an article was published by Radica Mahase in the Newsday newspaper where she shockingly attempted to discredit NGOs and Autism Parents for demanding better for autistic children. Since Ms. Mahase used a Newspaper that she regularly writes for to vent her opinions and made the same a public issue, we must respond to dispel her absurd position that attempts to tell the public that we are doing something ‘wrong’.
As Autism activists from APATT and parents raising 3 children on the Autism Spectrum for the past 19 years, we know exactly what it is like to be sitting in countless meetings with government officials to discuss the pressing needs of children with Autism in T&T, particularly with regards to special education. As a matter of fact, it has been our number one mission. We have been doing this for many years, even before APATT became a non-profit organization.
We know what it is like to meet time and time again, month after month, year after year to plan another meeting and another one and another while the years go by and absolutely nothing of substance is implemented. One has to understand that the dialogues and the (very cordial) and endless meetings have been going for many years, too many to count. This is not new information but maybe new for those who are not part of these meetings.
It has been our experience for the past 19 years that those who misjudge individuals or organizations who are speaking out and demanding from the government to do their job and fulfill their responsibilities of providing for the special needs children in this country, fall into two main categories: One, they are the individuals being called out by activists therefore they are displeased and offended or two, they are not parents of special needs children.
The reality is that unless you have special needs or you are a parent of a special needs child you do not know what it is like. You might be able to spend a lot of time with them, observe how they interact with other people, take them for a walk or an activity, see some of their struggles and have the best of intentions but at the end of the day, you are still not a parent of a special needs child. No matter how close you might be to the person — your perspective is therefore, limited and that’s okay because it opens up a great opportunity to learn and grow from those who walk the walk.
In the article by Ms.Mahase, she stated that “it is heart warming to know that the ministry has been allocating teacher’s aides to more students since April; has conducted workshops for teachers on differential learning and has been putting measures in place to assess pupils as they enter primary schools.”
The Ministry of Education has not provided attestation of any of their claims neither have they provided evidence of measures, implementation and/or effectiveness.
The article continues: “On the other side, there are the NGOs which have been advocating for those with autism. While the ministry has adopted a defensive stance, the NGOs have adopted an aggressive stance. Their advocacy has included a petition to the ministry and bashing the government on social media.”
The responsibility of providing education for ALL citizens, including those with Special Needs is the state’s full responsibility according to the UN rights of the child and the UN convention of persons with disabilities. As special needs parents, advocates and activists we have a moral responsibility and obligation to call out any government who is not fulfilling their responsibilities with our taxpayer’s money or when they attempt to mislead the general public with comments such as “all children with special needs are being catered for” or “assessments take between 6 to 12 months” when we know for a fact, it is not true. Or worse as it took place during the last JSC (Joint Select Committee) inquiry on special education when a MOE official accused special needs parents of abusing the system and paying professionals to lie and state that their child have special needs so they can get an advantage over the SEA exam.
Any serious activist knows they will be perceived by some people as aggressive, it comes with the territory. True activism makes people uncomfortable. Activists are not here to make people comfortable; they are here to advocate through a no non-sense approach and holding those in authority accountable when they fail in their responsibilities. Lives are at a stake here, our children’s lives and entire future. Autistic children become Autistic adults.
Ms. Mahase seems to misunderstand the concept of an activist approach of holding those in authority accountable while interpreting it as aggression.
She ends the article by stating: “More than anything else, we need to lose the “power play” by the ministry and “victim mentality” of the NGOs.”
Once again, Ms. Mahase seems to misunderstand Autism parents. This is not about playing victim mentality. This is about stating facts and stating facts do not make Autism parents victims. This is about clearly verbalizing the injustice that is taking place every day in our children’s lives and the lives of every single child with special needs in this country and demanding what is already rightfully theirs: The right to free public education with qualified teachers. Time is long overdue.
An advocate, who is not a parent of a special needs child, should not misjudge parents of special needs children. These parents work full time, try their very best to cater for their children’s needs daily and still have time and energy (even though they are exhausted) to assist other parents. Calling them out for wanting better for their children is a disservice.
We speak with parents on a daily basis, single parents who cannot afford private schooling, therapy or a tutor. They are forced to leave their children home, in a 4×4 bedroom all day, without the possibility to be educated or even homeschooled because they have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. This is the daily and raw reality for a lot of members of APATT.
As activists, we are not here to give smiles and curtseys while our children continue suffering the deprivation of one of the most important and basic human rights. We are here to continue pressing forward and demanding the government of Trinidad & Tobago to fulfill their obligations towards the Special Needs community in our nation.
It is very unfortunate that time and energy that could have been used to direct those who can make a difference to do so, was used to target those who are trying to seek help for their own children.
It is possible to see the said article as an example of why moving forward with the issue of special needs resources is so difficult in Trinidad and Tobago, because you not only are left without any help but are further told you are power playing to get help as a voice for the voiceless.