A RECENT incident relating to an autistic child developing type one diabetes, and challenges faced by the child and his mother, has been a major talking point on social media over the past week. The Weekly approached the chairperson of the Provincial Disability Forum at Eskom’s KZN Operating Unit, Stephen Naidoo, for his take on the matter. Q: What are your views on the social media post regarding the autistic, diabetic child? A: My view is that until something affects you personally, you don’t understand what the other person is going through. Reading the posts made me realise how far we are from understanding and supporting persons with special needs. Some people see this as a crusade by one mother to vilify a school and teacher. What we forget that everything starts with one. The “power of one”. We judge too quickly but are too slow to help someone seeking help and guidance. This mother has started something that may, at face value, seem to be only for her child, but this will go on to help hundreds of other children in a similar situation in the future. On the other hand, a lot of people have been supportive of the child and mother and are willing to stand with them in pursuit of a positive outcome.The anger in the community is justifiable in that we send our children to special needs schools because we expect the teachers and staff to take good care of our children. The same goes for any school. When we enrol our children into these schools, they ask us for the details of medical conditions and medication that our children use. Schools encourage you to send the medication with the child so that the child can be assisted in having a normal school life. Q: Do you think schools should be more supportive of children in this situation? A: We expect any school to be supportive of any child that requires assistance due to a medical or physical need, more so from a school that is classed a “special needs” school. In this case, if the school cannot assist a child in a simple matter of monitoring the child when he or she is taking medication, then I don’t think it should have the title of “special needs”. Whilst the school is a department funded school, the community has a duty to also hold them accountable when they fail to serve the needs of the community. Q: Can you elaborate with regards to the current situation at the school? A: The mother has been receiving a positive response from the school, principal and teachers. They have been co-operative with assisting and making sure that the relevant persons are now being educated on her son’s medical condition. Although the situation with administering medication is still a concern in cases where administration of medication is required when the sugar level is too low, the school is willing to do everything else to ensure the well-being of her son. The issue most concerning about this situation, however, is that a child almost lost his life before we started taking the necessary precautions and support measures. The rise of diabetes amongst children is a growing concern, an epidemic on which all should be educated on now. This situation faced by a mother and her nine-year-old autistic son is an eye opener to all parents. We as a community should stand together to prevent situations like these from happening at schools, not only when a life is almost lost. We should all stand up for what’s right.I think that we all are too quick to use legalities as a way to escape from being decent human beings. We have become more self-centered. If only we could do unto others what we expect them to do for us, we will then have more compassion in whatever field we work. Teachers are like parents to our children and asking them to help a child or monitor the child is no crime. People have rights, but these rights must be balanced against the needs of the children. Q: What are your views on a way forward, as a professional or someone working closely with persons with disabilities? A: The way I see it, the department needs to come to the party and address this issue with the school and its staff. Every teacher in this school should have at least level two first aid training so that it empowers them to assist children. This will take away a lot of the fears and anxiety that they may be having about assisting a child in taking his or her medication, or just monitoring the child. The school should also look at employing a nurse, taking into account that they deal with children that have special needs. Q: Do you think more cases will be expected in future, taking into consideration that diabetes is an epidemic? A: Yes, there will be. We have only heard of this case because the parent has been bold enough to come out and seek help. I can assure you that there are a lot more children out there that need help with diabetes. More and more children are being affected by type one diabetes and schools will need to be prepared for them. Q: What measures can parents take to protect their disabled children in schools? A: I always believe in following protocol. The parent should first take the matter they are facing to the principal and school governing body.If the matter cannot be dealt with effectively at this level, then escalate it to the circuit and district office and then ultimately to the provincial and national offices of the Department of Basic Education. Know your child, talk to your child, so that you pick up any changes that can alert you that all is not well. Believe your child and act rationally. My advice to the Department of Basic Education would be that they consider the urgent implementation of school nurses in all schools that cater for special needs children and ultimately roll it out to all primary schools. In this way, more children with special needs can attend school and parents will have peace of mind that a trained nurse is available to assist their children. If the department is proactive in dealing with these issues, then there is no need for parents and schools to be engaged in unnecessary fights over such cases.