Tireless advocate for children with special needs

Obituary: David James Carey: US born psychologist also achieved prominence as a broadcaster

David Carey: developed a richly-deserved reputation as one of this country’s most effective advocates for, and therapists of, children with special needs.

David Carey

Born: April 2nd, 1948

Died: April19th, 2018

The American child and adolescent psychologist David Carey, who has died aged 70, became famous to listeners to Newstalk Radio's Afternoon Show for his contributions to that programme's "Parenting Slot" each Wednesday.


His highly distinctive, honey toned, perfectly modulated broadcasting voice seemed ideally suited to his dispensation of advice on the raising of children, advice which was richly appreciated by a devoted audience.

The show's long-time presenter, Seán Moncrieff, told The Irish Times this week when the station's previous regular consultant psychotherapist David Coleman left in 2008, he and his producers had tried several "stand-ins" including Carey, but "it quickly became obvious that he [Carey] was the best."

Moncrieff says the reaction to his death has been remarkable: “all sorts of people, even those who didn’t have children” phoned or emailed or wrote in to the show expressing their sense of loss at Carey’s passing.

The reasons for Carey’s empathy with young people had very much to do with the circumstances of his upbringing in the town of Waterbury in Connecticut. In a remarkably frank interview with Moncrieff in 2013, Carey told of being adopted as a baby by the cousin of his birth mother. He knew nothing of his adoption until he was 25, and when he then went to see his actual mother for their first meeting since he was born, he got a rude shock. “I expected us to have a great hugging party,” but instead “she felt very distant.”

The meeting was disastrous for their relationship. Carey didn’t see his birth mother again until his adoptive mother’s funeral in 2007, and told his probably astonished listeners that at the time of speaking, ie 2013, he didn’t even know if she was still alive.

Arrival in Ireland

After Carey’s arrival in Ireland in 1998 to teach courses in Special Needs education at the Froebel College in Blackrock, Co Dublin, where he became special needs co-ordinator, he developed a richly-deserved reputation as one of this country’s most effective advocates for, and therapists of, children with special needs.

A former colleague, Dr Una McCabe, of St Patrick's College in Dublin City University (DCU), told The Irish Times Carey "had a very innate understanding of kids with these difficulties." In particular "he was fearless in speaking to schools which weren't helping students with those problems."

Dr McCabe gave as an example Carey’s work as a consultant examining schools’ performance in this area, or, rather, very often their lack of such: “If a child had autism, David would write a report openly critical of things that went on in [such a] school,” which led, she added to “much bitching behind his back”.

Carey's worked with the ADHD Society of Ireland, giving talks around the country. His book The Essential Guide to Special Education in Ireland, is described by its publisher, Fallon's, as "the first [such] book to be published in Ireland on the whole spectrum of such needs, from dyslexia to autism."

His work became very noticeable to parents of children with these difficulties. Geraldine Graydon, at that time the representative on the executive committee for special needs of the National Parents' Council (NPC), told The Irish Times that in the 1990s "to get an appropriate diagnosis [for special needs children] was fraught with difficulties . . . there were lots of court cases. Kids couldn't get educated. David was willing to go into court to support parents, and said it like it was, very directly . . . there was this attitude [among principals] that these kids shouldn't be in normal education . . . David wanted rights-based legislation [in this area] as they have in America."

Set up programme

An outstanding aspect of Carey’s work at this time, and later, was his commitment to helping some of the poorest children in the world in the slums of Nairobi. After hearing a plea for help from the Kenyan capital for teachers, Carey went there and set up a programme for the training of teachers, bringing student teachers from Froebel College out with him on an annual basis.

Una McCabe remarks of this that “it was one of the most important things David did”. The first Kenyan student teachers graduated in 2003, and Carey had renewed his commitment to this project in recent years.

David Carey’s adoptive parents were James Carey, a foundry worker, and Mary Jordan, a servicer of vending machines, and he was brought up as an only child. He graduated first from the University of Connecticut in Musical Education but, after three disillusioning years teaching, switched to Psychology at the same institution. He later took MSc degrees in Counselling and Educational Psychology at the Southern Connecticut State University, and finally a PhD at Heed University in Florida.

His marriage to Nancie Marti, a day care worker, ended in divorce. He is survived by his partner Angelina Cervi, by his daughters of his marriage to Ms Marti, Erin and Bridget, and by Ms Cervi’s sons from a previous marriage, Daniel and Edward.