By Lara Pickford-Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
The “real cost” of undiagnosed and untreated “hidden disabilities” is a child’s full potential remaining undeveloped, and potentially good and bright leaders going to the “negative side”, becoming destructive to society.
“The cost is high and it’s a cost we can no longer continue to pay,” said Archbishop Jason Gordon as he challenged educators and the education system to respond to the needs of children at last Wednesday’s opening of the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute’s (CREDI) ‘Hidden Disabilities Conference—What you cannot see’.
The two-day event at the Government Plaza, Richmond Street, aimed to sensitise relevant professionals about the reality of hidden disabilities in order to plan teaching and curricular strategies; and for administrators and caregivers to work towards infrastructure, human and technical resources to facilitate children with challenges.
He said that while parish priest at Rosary/Gonzales in the early 2000s he became familiar with gang leaders in east Port of Spain, and those he encountered all had learning disabilities. One of them, when asked about his schooling, confided he was frequently put out of class.
This young man learnt how to be disruptive and to be a leader, “in a negative way”, leading other boys to negative things. Archbishop Gordon said school became his “graduation to be a gang leader”.
The archbishop also spoke of a grandfather who asked for help for his nine-year-old grandson, Peter who did not want to go to school. “Every day he came from school he was worse than when he went.”
When the archbishop met Peter, the boy said he felt like a failure and there was no reason to continue living. Archbishop Gordon said it was clear nothing was wrong with Peter. He added, “There was something very wrong about the school he was going to, and very wrong with the education system to which that school was trying to conform.”
Peter’s teacher believed he was spoiled, lazy, not trying hard enough and required more discipline. There could have been two outcomes, Peter’s dropping out of school or becoming disruptive.
Archbishop Gordon visited Peter’s school and while empathy and understanding were voiced, an intervention was made but it was not pursued even though there were other children in Peter’s class with difficulties learning. He suggested there was a “systemic problem” in the education system’s approach to Peter.
From his own experience as a dyslexic, Archbishop Gordon said spelling, writing and dictation was like “terrorism” and “a constant battle” trying to “keep his head above water”.
Archbishop Gordon said keeping hope alive is a challenge for the child with a learning disability; they can lose faith and confidence in themselves. “That means we are robbing that child of ever achieving their fullest potential or at least we are making it very difficult unless some kind of intervention happens”.
Archbishop Gordon also called for today’s children, the digital natives, to be educated for the workplace of the future because they think, learn and interact with information differently. He commented, “We are treating digital natives as if they have a disability. They don’t; they are different and education has to change for that.”
Archbishop Gordon said some disabilities can be discerned if the teacher knows what to look for while others require investigation. The child however, should be seen as a child of God created with tremendous potential who can make a contribution to society.
“That contribution is what teachers are supposed to bring forth for our children,” Archbishop Gordon said of the vocation of the teacher.
Other speakers on the opening day were neuro-psychologist and educator Dr Tim Conway, hidden disabilities consultant Dr Madonna Wojtaszek-Healy and Kitts Cadette, Principal of Eshe’s Learning Centre.