Caribbean Nations Addressing Emerging Population of Special Needs Children
1 out of every 5 children in the U.S.is born with a special healthcare need. In New YorkState alone that equates to over 800,000 children.
Children with special needs, complex medical conditions or developmental disabilities, are challenged with a wide array of conditions stemming from premature birth, chronic illnesses, or severe injuries. These conditions often require a continuum of medical, educational, and rehabilitative long-term care and specialized services.
Children who are born with special needs are not limited to a particular demographic, race or culture- all unborn children are at risk for complications. Research in the Caribbean dating back to the 80’s and 90’s suggest that children in the Caribbean are at risk for or already have a special need.
In a 2007 interview with Angelita Arnold, Director of the Mico College Child Assessment and Research in Education Center in Jamaica, she was quoted as saying in JIS News “the number is significant. There is not a classroom you can go to inJamaicawhere there is not one child without some kind of special need.”
At the Caribbean Symposium on Inclusive Education in St. Lucia, it was found thatthere were 253 children with special needs who are presently attending Special education schools inSt. Lucia. Although this represents only 0.64% of the total school population, the number continues to grow and these children still deserve to be appropriately educated and cared for.
In 1996 a survey conduced inTrinidad and Tobagoreported there were over 50,000 children in the twin island republic with special needs or some type of developmental disability. In 2006 a survey conducted by Families in Action (FIA) at a Port-of-Spain primary school led by a project team of Medical Psychological, Social Work and educational partners showed that 70% of the children 7-13 years of age were characterized as academically impaired. Of these children, 15% had medical problems that could affect learning. Most recently, a 2009 article in Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday reported that 32% of students are intellectually challenged due to a number of learning disabilities that educators did not recognize as a special need, rather identified the child’s learning disability with their incapability to grasp concepts.
Learning disabilities (LD) refers to a group of disorders that affect a broad range of academic and functional skills including the ability to speak, listen, read, write, spell, reason, organize information, and do math. The disorders are neurological in origin and reflect information processing problems in the brain. LD’s may co-exist with various conditions including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavioral disorders, sensory impairments, or other medical or neurological conditions like autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Tourette Syndrome.
LD often leads to long-lasting psychological harm unless they are caught early. Babies born prematurely, meaning slightly early or two weeks late have a raised risk of learning difficulties.
I in every 8 babies are born prematurely every year. Premature birth is a major cause of serious health problems with pre-term infants at greater risk of medical complications and long-term disabilities, such as chronic lung and heart disease, developmental delays, and feeding issues, which may require specialized care and support for months, and often years, after they are born
The most recent wave of a developmental disability to hit the seas is Autism; a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. In Trinidad and Tobago, as of October 2007, there were over 300 families registered with the Autistic Society of Trinidad andTobago, but local awareness remains relatively low and funds are needed to advance the cause of the Society.
Many Caribbean countries are beginning to recognize the need for educational and social programs that address the growing needs of the special needs population who are faced with complex medical and or life-limiting conditions.
Guyana has recently been taken up appropriate tactics to combat the severely growing number of Guyanese children with autism. Ministry of Health’s Rehabilitation Services program and the Ministry of Education’s Special Needs Unit at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD) recently held a special workshop which addressed the lack of capacity and basic knowledge of strategies inGuyana’s special needs schools to address autism.
At the end of June, therapists from the Strategic Learning and Special Education Institute, a private institution in Trinidad which works with special needs children, will host a professional workshop in Maryland for parents, therapists and teachers, hold individual consultations with parents and their special needs children, conduct teacher training and child assessments. This is a wonderful opportunity to raise national awareness of how children with special needs can learn to become independent and live fulfilling lives – with the right teaching methods and resources.
Just last year the education ministry in Jamaica became aware that hundreds of students with special needs are waiting to gain access to schools. This has been a problem for years and the ministry is now trying to address it. After being diagnosed, most of the children with special education needs are forced to return to the mainstream classroom where their educational, medical, and social needs are not being met.
Grenada announced the implementation of a training program for educators involved in teaching children with special needs. The six week training for 20 teachers, including three from Carriacou, is expected to enhance the trainees’ knowledge, skills and understanding of inclusive and special education best practices.
The Ministry of Education in St. Lucia has increasingly attempted to broaden the scope of delivery of Special Education services by establishing the Student Support Services Unit, which includes the Special Education Unit, catering for children in Special Schools, as well as supporting children with learning disabilities at Infant and Primary schools.
Although these countries may not be far in combating the issue, they have each taken measures to promote and encourage education and awareness which is the first and most crucial step.