Determination and pride: A parent’s story from Trinidad and Tobago

Today my heart raced with excitement and my eyes overflowed with joy. My 6-year-old son, who has a developmental delay and speech impairment, crossed one of his hurdles on my quest for him to achieve an inclusive education. He graduated from his inclusive pre-school.

© Alicia Phillips-Sealy
© Alicia Phillips-Sealy

To most parents, this is just another routine that all children pass through. They may not understand what the big achievement is but, as the parent of a child with special needs, this is like a high school graduation. My son gleamed with pride and joy as he collected his certificate and tokens and sang along with his friends.

The goal of education is to instill concepts and character building, not just examinations and indoctrination.

My son’s inclusive pre-school has done so much for his development, including his speech. Having spent a lot of time in the school, I saw that the children did not laugh at him when he sounded a word incorrectly. Instead they would repeat the correct sound for him and get him to repeat it. His vocabulary has grown from listening to and interacting with the other children. They did not make fun of his loudness, instead they would tell him to talk softly, which he eventually learnt to do, except if he gets too excited. When he had difficulty writing letters of the alphabet, he would look at how his peers formed the shapes and they would even assist him at times.

Needless to say, all of this did not hold back the education of the rest of children, but it taught them the meaning of respect for differences: how to be kind and help others and most importantly, how to think of a child like my son as a normal human being with equal opportunities and rights. If such lessons could be carried and reinforced with these children throughout the rest of the school years, wouldn’t society be a much kinder place, in the years to follow?

Unfortunately, for many children these valuable lessons may be long forgotten by the time they graduate from high school. Society will have taught them that if a child is physically or mentally different, or has a learning style that does not fit the standardised education system, they are to be placed in a segregated setting.

I had to step on a lot of educators’ feet and break the chain of authority on many occasions, for my son to remain in and graduate from his pre-school. I even had to walk out of a doctor’s office because of their belief that all children with special needs should be in a special school “with kids of their own kind”. I had to fight for my son to be accepted into the primary school. I know my struggle for him to receive his basic rights as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago is far from over.

I would like every parent of a child with special needs to know that the fight for inclusion is long and hard. But, if you know your child has the ability, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We need to be their voice and their strength and run the race with them, until they are ready to take the baton and run on their own. They may not win the race, but they are sure to finish at their own pace.

You can contact Alicia via EENET.


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