November 20th was Universal Children’s Day 2017 and an opportunity for those in power to applaud and celebrate all they “do” to champion the brilliance of our children. So it wasn’t particularly surprising that our local Ministry of Education posted a message specifically highlighting the ministry’s intent “to continue to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child” and applauding Trinidad and Tobago as “one of the few countries in the world that offers Universal Early Childhood Care and Education, Primary and Secondary Education to all children”.
Unfortunately, that message was far from the truth. When my son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum four years ago, I was categorically told that the only schools available were for more severe cases and that my best bet would be to look for a regular school that was willing to accept him. The ministry that is supposed to provide educational resources couldn’t even find a school for my son! Now, you might be thinking “well maybe things have changed? That was four years ago.” And you’re correct. It has changed… but not for the better. There are presently no publicly funded Government schools that are fully equipped to cater for special needs children. Parents are forced to explore one of the following options:
- Attempt to integrate their child into the regular school system, which is often ill-trained and ill-equipped to support them: physically, developmentally or emotionally.
- Consider private schooling which is usually out of the financial reach of most families.
- Keep their children at home and possibly homeschool if there is a parent capable of delivering the curriculum.
After three years of option #1, my son’s challenges had continued to increase despite a wonderfully supportive environment. We were fortunate that the regular school we found was filled with teachers who were willing to encourage us and create a solution that our Education Ministry could not. However, the increase in challenges led us to homeschooling. I was blessed enough to be able to create a work schedule around my son. But as the co-founder of an autism parent support group, I am challenged daily by parents who do not have the luxury that I do and I am stymied to provide an answer to the same question that I asked four years ago… where do I send my child to school?
But here’s the immediate challenge that has me stuck… thinking that greater awareness is needed, especially directed towards Joe Public who might believe the hype and think that everything is fine and dandy, a petition was created. The intent of the petition was to state the actual facts and request rectification of the original message. Imagining that there would be a flood of people who would be as outraged as I was to be misguided in such a disrespectful manner. Maybe the petition hasn’t reached those people as yet? 😔 Yes, there has been support. But painstakingly slow. And that’s the moment when I have to pull back and remind myself that this isn’t personal and that it is typical human nature to resist change even when there is a benefit to it. This is the moment when I have to remind myself that even though not every fight will be won, the war most definitely will be victorious.