Sun | Apr 2, 2023

Mom quits job to shadow son at school after near-death experience

Published:Sunday | February 5, 2023 | 2:24 AMJudana Murphy - Sunday Gleaner Writer

Although it is not recommended that parents shadow their own special needs children, a near-tragic experience led Shauna Johnson* to take on the responsibility in September 2022.

Her seven-year-old son, a student at Hope Valley Experimental School, suffers from autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

At the time of the incident in May 2022, her son had a shadow, whose duties concluded at the end of the schoolday.

“The driver was carrying him home from school one evening and he was in traffic, and I guess maybe he was flustered, so he went through the window, which was halfway up. He started running in the middle of the traffic and the driver had to run him down. He didn’t receive any injuries, but the driver was frightened because at the same time, a gunman pulled up on him and robbed him while he was attending to my son,” the mother recounted.

To ensure the safety of her son, Johnson quit her job, deciding instead to take her son to the Mona, St Andrew-based institution daily and wait until dismissal so that she can accompany him home safely to Mavis Bank, St Andrew.

“I was traumatised, knowing that I almost lost my son,” the mother of two said, adding that it was at that point she applied to the Special Education Unit at the education ministry to become his shadow as he was in need of transportation support.

Her job prior to becoming her child’s shadow provided significantly more earnings, but the mother reasoned that it is a sacrifice rooted in love.

“If somebody else had to do the work I do with my son now, I would want them to be paid more. My son doesn’t keep still, so I have to be behind him constantly. He also throws tantrums and you just have to be very understanding. Doing that every day for eight hours is a lot,” Johnson reasoned.

But the mother counts herself blessed when she observes the level of care required for other special needs children who still wear diapers, cannot feed themselves, or are still unable to write.

Johnson told The Sunday Gleaner that she always has to be prepared with an activity to combat her son’s boredom.

“My son likes puzzles, colours, shapes and numbers, so I will give him a puzzle to do and that will occupy him for about 30 minutes, but I have to find something else for him to do soon after that, or he will have a tantrum,” she said.

She admitted that as a mother and shadow, it is sometimes overwhelming, but the love for her son keeps her going.

She had a similar call like other shadows and potential shadows in the islandwide system.

“I really wish the Government would top up the salary because there are shadows who have more expenses than I do and sometimes they don’t even have lunch. It’s not easy on us,” she said in a low tone.

Johnson also called on the Government to allow for mandatory enrolment of special needs students on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), pointing out that although she has applied a number of times, her son is yet to become a beneficiary of the state welfare programme.

*Name changed.