Unearthing hidden treasures in the special needs community
WHEN a teacher and a parent noticed that Usain Bolt has scoliosis, and Michael Phelps’ mom discovered he had a learning disability, each set of caregivers decided to work with these children and saw a bright future. History shows that these two Olympians overcame their respective challenges to become global stars and add to their countries’ economic growth.
Yet, every day in some Jamaican classrooms, children with disabilities are shunned. How many bushels have been kept under a light and the potential to contribute to the national economy overlooked?
Antonica Gunter-Gayle, director of the Early Stimulation Programme (ESP), who for more than 28 years has fought for acceptance of children with special needs, shares Andrew’s story.
“Andrew came in third out of 40 in his school, and Andrew has a disability — which initially the school refused to accept. Several of the teachers said that if such a child were in their school and they saw him every day, if they were to become pregnant their child would end up with the same disability. By the time Andrew sat GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test), these same teachers were so proud of him and said they wished the other students had the same level of determination.”
While not on the success scale of Bolt, to Gunter-Gayle Andrew is a clear example of what happens when the community stands up for a child’s ability.
“There is potential in every child with special needs to contribute positively to society, but this can only be unearthed through the opportunities given to them,” she says.
Gunter-Gayle continues: “We have to start with our attitude: we need a change in attitude to a positive attitude towards children with a disability. How we see them makes a difference and how we feel about them makes a difference.