Nadisha Hunter, Staff Reporter
Testing at birth, public education and parental checks necessary to save children living with disabilities
Chairman of the Special Education Committee at the Jamaica Teachers' Association, Dr Polly Bowes-Howell, is making a passionate plea for early identification of children living with disabilities, saying it is important if they are to meet their full potential.
Bowes-Howell made the call while addressing the most recent Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street-based head offices in Kingston.
"Early identification, screening five minutes after the baby is born, and you can leave the hospital knowing who you have and the challenges that you may have. This is critical because we are bombarded with so many risk factors, such as teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and poverty," she said.
Bowes-Howell further explained: "Public education is also important to get mothers to know that the earlier and the quicker they accept that their children are challenged is the better it is going to be."
She also argued that more needs to be done to properly diagnose students when they are making their transition from the primary level to secondary institutions so that they can received the assistance they require.
"You can't get the curriculum and, week one (when) you begin to teach, you have to understand the students," she explained.
"I am asking that at grade seven, the children leaving the primary school into the secondary programme go with a profile. The summer could be used as an orientation period, so you will look at the challenges and the needs and then you get the teacher to match the curriculum and support must be there," she argued.
Consultant child psychiatrist at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, Dr Ganesh Shetty, said with so many children falling through the cracks because of their disabilities, parental checks are important.
"Many of them are genetics, but some of them start in the home. For instance, when the mother drinks a lot of liquor and smokes a lot of cigarettes and ganja, the chances of the child being intellectual disabled is high," he said.
"So educating them and helping them to go through the antenatal care are important."
Shetty supported the call for early identification, saying it was important for early stimulation.
He lamented the fact that professionals in the education system are not properly trained to deal with mental-health issues.
"The training of guidance counsellors is good in terms of teaching the curriculum, but they don't have a practical exposure to mental-health issues. Although the Ministry of Education has workshops, when they see a child misbehave, all they think about is that they should get out of the class, so it is counterproductive," he said.