30 Sep Working For The Holidays
Finding a vacation-care program for a child with special needs is a hard job, writes Heather Golding.
It is because of my son’s autism that I have had to continually search for alternative vacation-care programs.
“I would like to book my child into a vacation care program for the school holidays please.”
“Sure,” says the happy-to-help voice on the other end of the telephone. “What days would you like and is it for a boy or a girl?”
“It’s for a boy,” I nervously reply.
“Okay then, what particular interests does your son have? Does he enjoy doing crafts, painting? Or like most little boys, I guess he would enjoy the outdoor play equipment.”
I am about to come unstuck, here again, I think to myself. I take a deep breath. “My son doesn’t exactly have any mainstream interests,” I eventually blurted out down the phone line. “He actually has autism and therefore basically he has his own particular style of interests and activities.”
As sure as night follows day, I know exactly what the voice on the other end of the phone will say. “Oh, I’m sorry, but our organisation is unable to care for a child with special needs. His needs would be too disruptive to the staff and to the other children, and we really cannot compromise their safety.”
More correctly, my son likes to be around other children, but he prefers to play by himself.
I don’t even bother to answer. I’ve heard all this before. As I slam down the receiver in anger, I ask myself, “Why do I even bother?” I’ll tell you why – why I continue to go down this awful gut-wrenching path so often. It’s because my son, who happens to have autism through no fault of his own, is continually shunned by mainstream society, and yet he still has the same needs as everyone else his age. My son still likes to play, but he prefers to play by himself. More correctly, my son likes to be around other children, but he prefers to play by himself.
I realise that his unusual behaviour and peculiar mannerisms are vastly different from that of other children his age, but he is not about to harm another child just because they are different from him. My son is eight years old, but plays and behaves like a four-year-old child. The only difference is that my son plays in his own world – in his own familiar and safe environment.
It is because of my son’s autism that I have had to continually search for alternative vacation-care programs. But finding a place in one is a source of difficulty because of the lack of government funding for the few organisations that are equipped and qualified to handle children with special needs. If I am lucky enough to find and actually have my son accepted into a government-funded vacation-care program (after first proving that my son qualifies for special-needs assistance), it is soon taken away from us due to a lack of ongoing funding.
I find it disappointing that most privately run vacation-care centres do not have the qualified staff to assist children with special needs. I find it disappointing that there appears to be no government funding to allow these mainstream vacation-care centres to employ the qualified staff to assist children with special needs, and that some centres have had to introduce exorbitant fees due to “changes in government funding arrangements”.
But what I find most disappointing is that the few government-funded vacation-care programs that are available to special-needs children and young adults tend to end up having their much-needed funding discontinued.
And then one day, completely out of the blue, I receive good news from an organisation that previously provided vacation-care programs that my son attended. There are plans to set up a respite house that will be used for a variety of purposes such as after-school care, weekend respite, a drop-in centre and, best of all, vacation-care facilities during the school holidays.
I subsequently attend several carer meetings with some of the coordinators and community liaison officers, in which they discuss the plans for a locally based vacation-care facility. It is during one of these meetings that I decided to mention the unnecessary stress of continually having to fill in lengthy application forms over and over again. I am pleasantly surprised to learn that because I am a long-time client, they already have all of my family’s personal details on their files and that they will fill in any necessary forms on my behalf. Wow!
Within a couple of weeks of that meeting, I receive the details of my son’s vacation-care program for the upcoming school holidays. I just hope that this wonderful new facility remains available to my son and others in the same situation for many years to come.
Illustration By Julie Knoblock