Tuesday 3rd May, 2008


David E Bratt, MD

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Hidden disabilities

  • Illiteracy is one of the main reasons for crime.
  • How often have we heard that the culprit was a school drop-out?
  • Learning disabilities are common.

On Thursday last, an admirably peeved and cynical Tony Lee, on the Tony and Dale radio show, was heard to comment that, in the midst of the mindless weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the raped death of Hope Arismandez, the English football team was about to arrive in T&T and by nightfall the headlines in the press would be about them.

So said, so done. The CNC-3 seven o’clock news opened with pictures of little Beckie with the sweet, sweet thongs being greeted by the big man himself, Jack Warner, and Hope was relegated to number two on the hit parade.

Barely 48 hours had passed between the time her decomposing body had been found by policemen allegedly taken there by her mother’s lover and the arrival of a second class English football team who could not make it to the European championship starting next month.

Not a problem for our little colonial minds, their bus was swamped the next day by adoring local women, swooning for a taste of good English beef, but you “had was to be” on the English team. Our own little “white boy,” Chris Birchall, had to be content with mingling among local and international media at a press gathering the following day and complaining about not getting a pick.

However, do not fear, Trinidad is here and soon that new Americanism so dear to our hearts, “Breaking News!” “Breaking News!” informed us that the presumptive killer of Hope was, in his turn, dead, supposedly by “suicide.”

We must all be so stupid to believe that, as the Sunday Guardian put it, a “high profile...prisoner, in a top-security remand section,” presumably under suicide watch (he had spoken of taking his own life), committed “suicide” by either cutting his wrists and then hanging himself (first report) or, alternatively, slitting his throat and then hanging himself (second report).

The mind boggles at the thought. He killed himself twice? How did he manage it? How did he get the razor blade? Did he cut his wrists first and then, dissatisfied at the rate of bleeding, tie something around his neck and around a beam, climb up onto a chair and kick it away? Did he first cut his throat, then loop the bed sheet around his neck, climb up, jump off, fall down?


What did he die of? Bleeding? Asphyxiation? A broken neck? How can anyone call this suicide until we have the autopsy report?

More to the point, we will never know the truth about who killed Hope. This man confessed after 48 hours in police custody. The police claim he led them to the body. All of this may be quite true but what if it is not?

According to our excellent English system (ah hah!), a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty by trial by a jury of his peers. We have seen similar shenanigans in previous children’s deaths. Then it is possible the real murderer is still at large?

Alternatively, if the police are correct, was this his first victim? Are there others out there who lived in fear because of him? Was he part of a group of paedophiles? How are we to find out the answers to these questions now? A convenient death, indeed.

The first reports suggested Sunil Ali was a school drop-out. Subsequent reports describe him as a “smart” individual. Doesn’t this ring a bell with anyone? How often have we heard that the culprit was a school drop-out? Worse, a smart school drop-out?

Is this possible? Of course. There are children in school who look just like you and me, who behave in the first few years of school just like you and me, who end up as school drop-outs. These are children with “hidden disabilities,” ie, they look and behave normal but there is something wrong with their brains or their minds, and the most common of these is a child with a learning disability.

Learning disabilities are common, maybe five per cent of the population and unless these children are diagnosed they fail school, drop out, become delinquents and end up in a gang or dead by 30.

In last Sunday’s Guardian, Dennis Hall, better known as Sprangalang, one of the most acute observers of the Trini scene and perhaps the most misunderstood of our local commentators, said in an interview with Clevon Raphael that “illiteracy is one of the main reasons for crime.” He is correct.

Although we do not have local statistics, anecdotal reports from our psychologists corroborate international figures that up to 50 per cent of men incarcerated cannot read or write and most of these have either a learning disability or suffer from Attention Disorder Hyperactive Disease or ADHD.

Worse! We know that up to two per cent of children are super intelligent. What happens to an intelligent little boy, situated in a classroom with a tired, bored, vapsy teacher who fails to recognise the potential in the eager, bright-eyed child who knows every answer but cannot keep still like his less intelligent companions? Whaps! Licks! Out the classroom! “Yuh stupidy!”

Yes, it is possible to be a school drop-out, and smart, and end up in prison. Think of the hundreds coming up!

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