Sun | Apr 23, 2017

A mother's struggle - No school, no help, abuse for special-needs child

Published:Tuesday | September 23, 2014 | 9:00 AM

Nadine Wilson, Staff Reporter

Having her daughter placed at a mainstream high school following her sitting of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) was a joy for Cynthia Dewar.

It finally appeared that the tide was slowly turning for her child who had special needs. But less than a year later, her daughter was kicked from the school.

Dewar said it had always been a challenge for her daughter to fit in at school because she took a bit longer than other children to grasp information and she was often teased about her impulsive giggles.

"When you are talking, she would just laugh when there is no real reason for her to laugh," the mother said.

Although she had been an outpatient at the Bustamante Hospital for Children and then the University Hospital of the West Indies where she received counselling, it wasn't until she was 16 that she would be diagnosed as being bipolar by a psychologist in Spanish Town, St Catherine.

"You would go to doctors and they would check her and ask her questions, and just do the routine things," noted the mother.

"When I saw that she wasn't fitting in right, I tried to get her into a special school. I spent years trying, but just couldn't. So I sent her to a normal school, and I think that maybe contributed to more of the behavioural problems that she developed," said Dewar.

The mother first enrolled her child at a prep school in Portmore, St Catherine where they live, and at 12 years old, the child completed the GSAT and secured placement at the Waterford High School in the area.

But instead of getting better, everything went downhill as her daughter started acting up during classes and became a target for bullies who often called her an "idiot".

"They would call her names and then she would act up and she would be rude to teachers and she would skip class and be outside, because maybe she just couldn't manage the work.

"She would complain that she was talking to the teacher and the teacher would not pay her any mind and then she would be rude to the teachers," the frustrated mother told The Gleaner.

Visiting school often

Due to her daughter's behaviour, Dewar said she was called in on several occasions by teachers and the guidance counsellor at the school. As a result of having to go to the school every other week, it was difficult for her to operate her small hardware store which was her primary source of income.

The mother said she tried explaining that her daughter had a mental problem, but was told that she would need to find another school for her. "I told them, but they said they didn't have any space for children like that. You have to blame the government, because the government needs to build something for children like her," argued Dewar.

After her daughter's expulsion, she was once again forced to embark on a search for a special-needs school. Dewar was given a range of excuses as to why she could not gain placement. The reasons ranged from not having any space to not meeting the requirements for acceptance. At the Carberry Court Special School, for example, she was told that her then 13-year-old daughter was too old to be accepted.

She eventually had her enrolled at the Young Women's Christian Association, but after just one term, she was told she would need to find another school because the teachers were not equipped to deal with the child's behaviour.

"The teacher said she couldn't deal with her because she was rude," said Dewar. "Her situation, it has been so rough," the mother lamented.

Frustrated, Dewar decided to keep her daughter at home for a year. It was during this period that she came across the health professional in Spanish Town who diagnosed her as being bipolar. The doctor also prescribed some medication which Dewar said helped to keep her daughter calm.

Given the improvement in her daughter's attitude, Dewar said she started sending her to a private school in Portmore, but the same challenges persisted and she withdrew her from the school after a year.

In a last ditch effort to secure an education for her daughter, the mother enrolled her at the Adonijah Group of Schools at 17 years old. However, after just a few months at the school, her daughter ran away. Dewar later found out that she was living with a man, but when she sought the help of the police to get her to return home, she was told there is nothing the cops could do.

"At 18, she functioned like maybe a 13 year old, and at 21 now, she acts like a 15 year old," said Dewar.

"I tried to explain to the police that she has a mental problem and she can't make certain decisions on her own, but the police said they couldn't do anything, because she is an adult. So she went back and there was so much abuse."

Cognitive age

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison agreed that since Jamaican law recognises a person's calendar age and not their cognitive age, service providers generally consider anyone over 18 years old to be an adult.

"Certainly, I think that there is a grey area in terms of those persons who have reached 18, but they have been operating at the level of a child based on their cognitive development. I think that the Disability Act certainly, based on the protocols that will be established under that legislation, presents a very good opportunity for us to address persons who fall into that particular grey area," said Gordon-Harrison.

Dewar explained that when her daughter returned home after running away for a second time, she came back badly beaten and pregnant.

"She was almost out of her mind, totally losing it, but I did have some medication at home, so I gave her until she came back to normal."

"I think they should put out more effort to help children with disability and see to it that there is medication for them, so that it can help them, because if they don't do that, I don't know what is going to happen.

"Children are going to grow up and they don't have a skill and they can't help themselves and you are going to have to be burdened with them for the rest of their life," Dewar said.

According to child psychologist, Gemma Gibbon, a failure to diagnose and treat with a mild learning disability from early can lead to maladaptive behaviour. Gibbon noted that a child sometimes enter an institution with a mild disability, but because of insufficient intervention, their situation gets worse.

"Something as simple as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), if it is not treated, it can progress to ODD, which is oppositional defiant disorder, and that progresses to adult antisocial behaviour," warned Gibbon.