When ghettos are not the answer
I was interested to read recently in E&L that teachers broadly welcome the proposal in the White Paper that a number of ordinary schools be designated as centres where students with particular disabilities may be educated.
As the parent of a child with Down's Syndrome who is currently attending his local school, may I say how appalled I am by this suggestion. My child is the only child in the school with a disability and therefore he doesn't represent a threat to anyone. The children initially asked a lot of questions about him which his teachers and I answered honestly and now they just accept him (and his limitations) completely. He seems in some way to bring out the best in the other children and this has been acknowledged by the board of management, the teaching staff and the parents of fellow-pupils.
However, a group of disabled children in a school would by a different matter. Quite apart from the fact that the needs, for example, of a visually impaired child and a child with spina bifida are totally different they would be marginalised and isolated and would be extremely vulnerable to being bullied. Already it is common for children who avail of the services of a remedial teacher in ordinary schools to be known as the "veggies". You can just imagine what children with a serious disability would be called.
As parents, we would like whatever money is available to be divided between children with special needs and for that money then to be spent in the school which the child attends, whether it be special school or an ordinary school. To have all special needs children in one designated school in every locality would undoubtedly make economic and administrative sense. However, it would not be in the best interests of the children, who are already vulnerable.
If this matter does not touch you personally, it can be difficult to summon up enthusiasm for our cause. But think - before you go to bed tonight, you could be the parent of a special needs child. If your beautiful, healthy, intelligent child were to be left disabled as the result of an accident, would you suddenly love him less? Would your concern for him drop in proportion to his reduced abilities and potential? Would you be happy to remove him from his old familiar school and friends and send him to the local designated school so he can get the extra help he now requires? This would not be good enough for your wonderful child and it's not good enough for mine either. Yours,
283 Sutton Park, Dublin 13.