Parents of special-needs children urged to help each other - Costly venture, more support needed
Pointing to the many challenges faced by parents of children with various types of developmental disabilities (DDs), Michael McKenzie, father of a six-year-old who suffers from autism, has charged parents to play their part in the growth of all special-needs children, not just their own.
"Disability affects every child differently, and there's also a question of what level of disability, whether mild, moderate or severe. So, different parents will go through different challenges. Some parents can't handle it, so we have to chip in to try and help that child realise his/her full potential," reasoned McKenzie.
His son, Markeano, was part of the latest cohort that transitioned from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security's (MLSS) Early Stimulation Programme, an intervention programme for children up to seven years old with various DDs.
The transition exercise was held at the Apostolic Church of Jamaica Bethel Temple in central Kingston on Wednesday for students who have reached a level to become part of the education system.
McKenzie told The Gleaner that in addition to teachers, parental involvement played a major role in bringing children to that point.
"When you go to the school and you see what is happening - some children who can't walk, some with total muscle shutdown with not even their eyes can move - you realise that we are all in this together," argued McKenzie. "You, as a parent, can't just think about your child, because some parents are going through some serious stress. You have to help out other children and parents in any way you can - money, food, clothes, anything," said McKenzie.
A computer science major, McKenzie explained that he researched the various disabilities and used science and technology to aid not only his son's development, but that of the other children.
"I try to formulate programmes to bring out the speech in my child because I can often see what he's trying to say," he recounted. "So, I use my background and knowledge to make it a little easier, and I bring that same approach to the other parents during various presentations at monthly workshops. I've seen first-hand where they have improved greatly, and I'm very proud of all of them," McKenzie stated.
Outspoken parent Michael McKenzie, father of a six-year-old who suffers from autism, said that he would continue to aid both parents and children following his son's departure from the MLSS Early Stimulation Programme. He also used the platform to appeal to Government to do more.
"It's a costly venture, and it takes a lot out of parents who already have to cope with so much emotionally and physically. So, it would bring some relief if the Government could provide any further assistance. I might have it a little easier, but it's not the same for other parents."
Speaking at Wednesday's transition exercise, Zavia Mayne, state minister in the MLSS, reiterated the Government's commitment to the educational advancement of the country's most vulnerable children at all levels.
Where disabilities are concerned, the ministry is committed to the integration, inclusion and empowerment of all persons, and this was one such programme, Mayne said. He further commended parents for their commitment and encouraged them to continue caring for their children.
"Certainly, we're extending ourselves, as a Government, for them (parents) to reach out to the different programmes within the ministry that will assist them going forward, be it the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education, Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities or the Abilities Foundation," said the state minister.