Sneak preview Podcast
Fionn is in Senior Infants in Gaelscoil Baile Brigin. He relates happily to his classmates, asks his teacher intelligent questions about what they are learning, and does what he is told with a willing smile. All of which would be noteworthy in most six year old boys but Fionn has Asperger’s Syndrome.
He is a poster child for how well the system works …. when it works. The SNA who was working with him that morning told me about the huge strides he had made in just 5 months. Fionn is happily integrated into his class. When he arrived first he would talk to no one other than the SNA. Now he chats to all the other kids and they are completely accepting of Fionn’s harmless little eccentricities.
As the morning I was there wore on he began stimming – a repetitive flapping of his hands – that shows his concentration is flagging. With no fuss one of his classmates handed him a crayon and he re-focussed. As we were walking to the playground a classmate sidled up to Fionn and took his hand into hers. It was an entirely unself conscious display of friendship. In the yard they run off to play in a small group. This generation of Irish children will have a very different attitude to disability, but it wouldn’t be possible if the SNA, Helen Ni Riain, wasn’t there to keep his mind on the job at hand.
This school has 10 Special Needs children in four different classes. All of whom are attended to by one and a half SNA’s. If I ever go to war I want this school’s Principal, Clodagh Ni Mhaolchiaran, planning my logistics for my side. She coordinates the movements of the assistants around the classes to ensure the maximum amount of care and attention for each of the children as their minimal resource allows for.
The system has worked for Fionn largely because his parents have done an impressive job of lobbying and pushing for the resource that their son needs. But also because his condition was diagnosed and his needs attended to before austerity cuts began. Standing outside the playground that morning was another little boy in Senior Infants who couldn’t come in because he is not so happily integrated into his class. His autism was diagnosed first after cuts were imposed. The contrast between the two boys and what you would imagine to be their futures couldn’t be more stark.
In the Podcast of my Drivetime report you will hear Helen talk about Fionn graduating from Third Level in the future. That would be nothing less than what this charming kid deserves, and can achieve if he continues to receive the support he’s getting now. It’s painful to contemplate, though, the agony of any parent trying to imagine what might happen two or three years down the line if the resource is withdrawn. To raise a child’s horizons and then take all that away would seem exceptionally cruel.
The other thing that really impressed itself upon me was the positive impact that “main streaming” Special Needs children has on the attitudes of the rest of their classmates. If we stay the course with resourcing special needs programmes its not unrealistic to contemplate an Ireland one generation from now with one less prejudice.’
This podcast will broadcast this evening on Drivetime as a part of our week long focus on primary education and the state of national schools.