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Diagnosing disabilities

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

CCDC sounds like a branch of the CDC, the Carnival Development Committee. Thankfully, it is not. Over the last ten years the CDC has shown that it doesn’t know where Carnival came from, where Carnival is, and where Carnival is going. Most people would say, “To Brazil.” The CCDC is the acronym for Collaborative Child Development Centre, a concept which was endorsed by the former Ministers of Health and Education, John Rahael and Hazel Manning, back in 2004. Since then we’ve been through various changes of ministers and even one of government and nothing has happened to put it into place. The CCDC is not, as the name suggests, a place where Trini children are stimulated to develop to the fullest. That’s a progressive day-care centre. There are enough of those around, even though most of them are merely places where parents dump their children on their way to work, to become breeding grounds for every virus working its way through Trinidad.

Apart from losing part of our indigenous culture to Brazil and becoming embroiled in the often violent race for money and status, the major problem affecting our children is that of disabilities. Some 50,000 children in T&T are thought to be disabled in one way or the other. From the severest forms to things so mild as to defy diagnosis unless properly examined by specially trained professionals. Disabled children are particularly relevant to the socio-economic problems prevalent in T&T today. It is not far-fetched to suggest that there is a linkage between disabled children deprived of adequate medical, educational and social support and the crime situation. This is certainly possible, especially where the disability may be mild and not apparent until the child enters school and is found unable to function adequately.

The average disabled person in this country feels that his or her role as a Trinidadian is severely restricted, their rights as a citizen denied, their potential and capabilities remain unexplored, and their usefulness to society overlooked. As a result the lifestyle of the disabled child or adult is often one of frustration, failure and despair. One of the problems with disability is that when you say the word disabled, everyone immediately thinks of a person in a wheelchair. That is not to deny that problem, but there are many different types of disabilities.
I am disabled. I have to wear glasses to see properly. That may not seem to be too much of a problem until I lose the glasses. My visual disability was diagnosed at a fairly early age. What happens to the child who has a visual problem and nobody picks it up? They can’t see what the teacher is writing on the blackboard so start doing badly in school.

Children do not complain about not being able to see. Because that’s the way they see! They have nothing to compare their visual experiences with until they get glasses and their behavior improves.
What about the child with a mild hearing loss, who functions well in a one to one situation but can’t hear in a crowded classroom? The thing becomes more difficult when you understand that there are children with very mild forms of intellectual delay or emotional damage or different styles of learning which cannot be picked up by a parent or teacher except to say, “Something wrong.” The CCDC would be a one-stop place where children who are felt to be developing too slowly or abnormally, or are not doing well in school, or who are “not fitting in,” could be investigated by a team of experts, including paediatricians experienced in child development, child psychologists, school psychologists, and social workers. Specialists in vision, hearing, speech, muscles, stimulation, balance and special education would all be part of the team.

The idea is that any child who is felt by a doctor or nurse or mother or auntie or teacher to be developing slowly, would be able to access the services of the centre as early as possible in the life of the child because the earlier you diagnose a disability the easier it is to help that youngster attain his or her maximum capability. After a comprehensive assessment by the relevant members of the team, an individualised treatment plan appropriate for the child’s medical, educational and social problems would be started. The centre would also provide support and counselling for fam-ilies and children and clinical continuity until the child is an adult. It would also serve as a research, resource and educational centre, not only for T&T but for the Eastern Caribbean. There is a problem with staffing but there is enormous goodwill and energy at the technical level of the various ministries involved, as well as at the NGO level, which traditionally have been the ones doing all the treatment. Over to the politicians.


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