The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

Parents with heartfelt plea for system to help their autistic children lead a normal life

Gabriel Schembri Friday, 18 November 2016, 12:20 Last update: about 7 years ago

Parents who attended a seminar about autism gave a heartfelt plea for authorities to provide the necessary support so that their children who suffer from autism to lead a normal life and for schools to be as inclusive as possible.

The seminar which was held at the Corinthia Palace in Attard was organised by Labour Party MEP Miriam Dalli. She said that education in Malta should include more benefits and provide more access to those people with autism.

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The MEP said that the aim of such discussions like the one being held this morning was to have policy makers listen to the public’s concern regarding this issue. She said that one must recognise that this condition needs very specific solutions. “People with autism who are so determined to succeed inspire me and show me that the education institutions in Malta need to adapt more.”

“In EU member states, autistic persons benefit from more access to education and respect to their rights. It is high time that these much needed measures are included in the local scene.We are speaking about determined students who want to succeed. We want this seminar to address and discuss how our educational system can help persons with autism.”

Emily Slater, an autism advocate, opened the seminar by calling on the authorities to recognise her situation and look deeper into the matter. She said that although she did well in most of her school subjects, the fact that she could never pass from her Maltese exam prevented her from getting into University.

One parent of an autistic child said that there is no enough support in schools and said that schools simply do not put enough resources into this matter. “We need to have a change the mentality and need to empower the teachers and LSAs,” she said. “I want my son to go to University and not stay at home when the LSA’s don’t show up. We need back up because the system is failing our children.”

Minister Evarist Bartolo said that inclusion does not simply mean having LSAs, but this should not serve as an illusion that if a child has an LSA all problems are solved. “Education is a vocation. You have to love children and the rest will all fall into place. The policies are ok, but it’s the people that need to implement them.”

He said that the LSAs alone are not the solution, because it needs to be a whole school effort. Mr Bartolo acknowledged the fact the need to empower LSAs and provide necessary training. “What we need is a mentality change,” he added.

A teacher said that LSAs are being treated as baby sitters and lacked tangible training. “All I ask is for my son to grow and become an active member of society,” she insisted.

A mother of a twelve year old son with autism and asked if the authorities are doing anything to address the autism ‘epidemic’. “At age nine, a psychiatrist wanted to shut him down at Mount Carmel. But I couldn’t do that. My conscience would not let me.”

Shadow Minister for the Economy Claudio Grech, who also addressed the seminar during a panel discussion, said that there is an across the board commitment to take necessary legislation into practice. “What Emily shared with us shows us we are failing. We are looking at someone who wants to learn but the system is failing her. I am not criticising the government per se, but the faceless bureaucracy which holds people like Emily back.”

During the discussion, Corinne Woods from the child development assessment unit said that one major concern is that the authorities are not looking after the careers, including families and professionals. “We need a family-centred approach,” she said.

Dr Elena Tanti Burlo said that the local education system is very selective. “We have tried to force an inclusive educational system, into a system that is very selective even for any other pupil.” She said that teachers are abdicating their responsibility to people who are not trained. “I train LSAs and those sitting for the diploma work a lot, but the system in itself needs to change. We have a lot of resources, but we must use them better.”

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