I refused to believe the story when an acquaintance told me earlier today that Prime Minister Christie, the parent of an autistic son, addressed the REACH Candle Light ceremony in Rawson Square yesterday (Tuesday, 2nd April) and suggested to his audience of parents of other children affected by an autism spectrum disorders that they should seek to arrange a meeting with him so that he might assist them in their initiatives in support of autistic children. It was further claimed that the Prime Minister said that he might be convinced to give REACH 1/10th of the sum he had provided to the organisers of the recently concluded Carifta Games – as if he has a roll of money in his pocket from which he can dole out largesse to chosen programmes.
I watched ZNS newscast this evening and was stunned to learn that the story was absolutely accurate. I heard Mr Christie invite the REACH organisation to try to get a meeting with him. He then advised that they should seek to convince him to give them at least 1/10th of what the Government had made available for Carifta and he said that they should also seek to convince him to make land available to the group, presumably for the construction of the association’s offices.
If he believes that his comments were an expression of support and caring for those affected by autism, I believe the Prime Minister is sadly mistaken.
Surely as the parent of an autistic child, Mr Christie should be an advocate for increased assistance to special education; he should know what the outstanding needs are and he should ensure that appropriate departments in his Government give priority attention to remedying those shortcomings.
But then, the Prime Minister’s apparent insensitivity on the subject of autism is only the sad reflection of the callous disregard that he has always displayed in relation to special needs children. I recall that during the 2002 election campaign Mr Christie did not – in my opinion – shy away from using his son’s disability as a calling card to draw support for his party among the parents and guardians of special needs children.
In office, he did very little to fulfil his promise. He even failed to expand the special education programme for students with autistic spectrum disorders introduced at the Garvin Tynes Primary School by the FNM during the late 1990s. It took the return to office of the FNM in 2007 to see that special education programme expanded to high school level at the Anatol Rodgers High School.
In fact, I believe that Mr. Christie’s principal contribution to special education during his first term in office was the appointment of a committee to study the issue followed by the recruitment of a number of special education teachers from Cuba. The limited English language skills of most of the Cuban teachers severely restricted benefits derived by their presence in our school system.
Mr Christie promised in the 2012 general election campaign that if elected his Government would double the investment in education.
So far, we have only heard about proposed cuts to educational institutions. Now we learn that REACH must lobby for a meeting and then seek to convince the Prime Minister to dole out monies to support special needs children. What are we coming to?
By: Kirkland Turner