Lack of support on special needs: ‘Does my son not have rights?’

Scott Saunders (9) does not have appropriate school place for the coming academic year

Sharon Saunders, from  Tallaght, Co Dublin, pictured with her son Scott  (9). Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Sharon Saunders, from Tallaght, Co Dublin, pictured with her son Scott (9). Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

 

Within days of starting junior infants, it was clear Scott could not cope in a mainstream classroom with dozens of other children.

“He was getting very stressed,” says his mother Sharon Saunders, from Kingswood in Tallaght, south Co Dublin. “He didn’t want to go [to] school. His attitude and behaviour changed dramatically.”

Scott has Down syndrome and a moderate learning disability. He craves routine and structure and he needs a range of therapies to help him to communicate.

The school said it was not able to cope with his level of need and placed him on a reduced timetable of just an hour a day.

Things settled down very well. He has a great routine. I couldn’t fault the school at all

“It wasn’t working out. He was barely in the door and he was home again,” says Ms Saunders.

Through word of mouth she heard of a mainstream primary school in Newcastle, in south Dublin, about a 20-minute drive from their home, which has a special unit of five children with Down syndrome. The staff at the school are experienced in meeting the needs of children with additional needs. Scott got a place there.

“It’s been wonderful,” says Ms Saunders. “He never looked back. Things settled down very well. He has a great routine. I couldn’t fault the school at all.”

Coming to an end

A few weeks ago, however, she received a phone call to say his time in the unit is coming to an end.

Scott is nine years old, but the remaining children in the class are older and due to leave the school this year. As a result, he will have to go back into a mainstream classroom.

I can’t see how he will cope in a mainstream class . . . He has an appropriate school place which is being taken from him

“This has all just landed on us,” Ms Saunders says. “I don’t know how he’ll react. He loves structure and routine and my fear now is he’ll go backwards and lose his school place all over again.”

Ms Saunders says that, as of now, her son will not have an appropriate school place in the coming school year.

When there was a change of teacher in the Down syndrome unit, she says, it took him three months to adjust.

“I can’t see how he will cope in a mainstream class . . . He has an appropriate school place which is being taken from him.

“I’m told the decision has been made high up. But what about him? Does he have any rights?”