APRIL IS World Autism Month and since the pandemic restrictions instituted over a year ago, special needs children have been more badly affected than any other group.
This deleterious impact has come from a number of sources: first, loss of income due to the economic contraction caused by the government-imposed measures on the private sector; second, the mandated closure of schools that would usually take care of special needs children; and last but not least, the switch from person-to-person therapy to online or no therapy (the last two being virtually synonymous for special needs children).
It is therefore not surprising that calls for assistance for these children have become even more frequent over the past year. Some of these calls come from hustlers posing as activist groups, but there is no doubt that many of the organisations that give yeoman service in this regard have not been able to fulfil their goals.
Nonetheless, given that their need for funding has come at the very time when the Government’s self-inflicted damage to the economy has exacerbated an already tenuous situation, special needs children are very low on the totem pole of government social assistance priorities (as shown by the fact that cutting the allocation for URP is not even under discussion).
What then can these groups (and parents) do to ensure that these children get the care and attention they need? As a free-market proponent, my view is that, even in prosperous times, the state should not be involved in providing funds for such requirements nor should parents request such assistance. Doing so is bad for the society and bad for the children themselves.
Let us look at the contradiction between how the groups plead for assistance and what they ask for. The first part of the plea is typically couched as a moral argument: “These are the most vulnerable members of society and any civilised society must cater to those who are unable to care for themselves.” This argument, as a moral entreaty, is irrefutable. But then comes the second part of the argument: “The parents cannot afford to take care of their child’s special needs and therefore the Government must supply the money, the schools, the teacher training, and the personnel to do so.” This is an immoral argument.
How is this immoral? Because the Government has no money of its own. It only has money extracted from taxpayers. Therefore, these parents are in essence asking the Government to force other people to help them take care of their child. It does not matter that the Government collects that money through taxes: the money spent on special needs means that other services will not be provided or provided less. This is okay for citizens who think these children should be a priority, but not for citizens who think, for example, that cancer patients should be.
Additionally, all parents expect to spend their own money on their children (and therefore less on other things). The only difference is that parents of special needs children end up having to spend more than they expected to when they planned to have a child (because nobody plans to have a special needs child). This means more sacrifice, but all parents end up sacrificing more when they have a child with unexpected traits. Parents whose child does exceptionally well in school, or who displays a talent for music, tend to spend more money on the things their child needs to develop that ability or talent.
Nonetheless, the moral argument still holds. Special needs children do need to be cared for. The Government can help by providing a tax rebate to the parents and by removing all taxes on charitable contributions from private individuals and companies.
This will not only ensure that more funds will reach special needs children but, more importantly, ensure that these monies are spent more efficiently. Government largesse inevitably involves wastage and even corruption. Private sector companies and individuals will be more circumspect about spending their money so the hustlers will get sidelined in favour of people who provide actual help.
Companies will contribute, not only to enhance their corporate image but also because our history shows that business people have always responded generously to the plight of those in need, once that plight is highlighted.
The obvious question is: will the money be enough? No, it will not, because it never is. But it will be more than what the Government provides and parents will not have to jump through public service hoops to get such funds. In the long run, the children will end up being better served, which is the real goal.