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Support for JTA head’s call for more diagnostic centres

Published:Saturday | August 27, 2022 | 12:10 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer
Jamaica Teachers’ Association President La Sonja Harrison.
Jamaica Teachers’ Association President La Sonja Harrison.


Proponents of child-based special needs assessment are backing a call by Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President La Sonja Harrison for more assessment centres to be established across Jamaica.

While addressing the JTA’s 58th annual conference in Montego Bay, St James, earlier this week, Harrison said that these centres are needed for the effective testing of students with special needs, allowing teachers to plan their lessons with those diagnoses in mind.

“We are yet to have enough assessment centres across the length and breadth of this nation. Our schools have before us children who we cannot diagnose, yet there is the challenge of getting these children coming to us assessed, having a profile attached to them, and to say that these are the challenges, or this is the state which this child is in … . We are yet to get there where that is concerned with our special needs facilities,” said Harrison.

Clinical psychologist Georgia Rose told The Gleaner on Friday that she was in full support of Harrison’s call, saying that Jamaica needs to have at least one diagnostic centre in every parish.

“What is currently in place is grossly inadequate for the population’s needs. In an ideal world, there needs to be a diagnostic centre in each parish, but we are quite aware that, financially, we may not be able to afford that. But there has to be a deliberate attempt to increase the number of assessment locations that are accessible to the general population, where you know those parents or families that cannot afford to have a private assessment can have meaningful options to access the service,” said Rose.

“This is because many of our children are struggling in school, and because of lack of access to comprehensive assessment, they are not getting the support and the resources that they need to achieve their full potential. The children are being labelled as ‘lazy’ and ‘rude’ when there are clearly other things taking place with them, and they are missing out on the requisite support because they are not able to access it, or if they are able to access it, the waiting period is so long,” explained Rose.

Maia Chung, founder of the Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation, is also in agreement.

“I believe that special needs care was always on the backburner, and since the coronavirus pandemic, it came completely off the stove. The children are even more fallen through the cracks, and anecdotally, I can speak to that based on the work we [at the Foundation] have been doing since COVID-19 started to sweep the land, and the situation is a disgrace,” said Chung.

The call for a diagnostic centre to be instituted in each parish was previously made in 2018 by Dr Ashburn Pinnock, president of the Mico University College, who said at the time that approximately 30 per cent of Jamaica’s children have a special need.

The Mico University College currently has child assessment centres in Kingston, Portland, St Ann, and Manchester. St James is home to the Sam Sharpe Diagnostic Centre in Montego Bay, while Westmoreland has the Llandilo School of Special Education in the Llandilo community.