Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Technology In Education

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

The Best High Tech Tools for the Special Ed Classroom

Written By Felicity Dryer ( Guest Blogger)

Both general and special education classrooms are full of diverse learners, spanning the spectrum of skills, knowledge, and abilities that all need to be addressed. Using technology in the special education classroom is an excellent way for teachers to provide personalized lessons for children with a variety of needs.

The assistive technology used in special education classrooms is often high-tech, including computers, other electronic devices, and software that help special needs students maintain or improve their functionality in the world. For example, a student who has not been able to express their thoughts through writing by hand may be able to use a word processor with a keyboard or a talk-to-text program. The use of this technology not only helps the student with the writing process, but also allows him or her to use that particular kind of technology in the larger world.

Criteria for Technology Use in the Special Ed Classroom

High tech tools in the special education classroom are only helpful if they can be used on a regular basis by teachers and students alike. When considering incorporating technology into the special education classroom, consider asking these questions.

●     Educational Purpose – Can the technology can be used in clearly defined ways to increase the knowledge and skills of students who use it? Can the technology be used as an assessment tool to gauge improvement?

●     Ease of Use – Is the technology easy for teachers to prep and simple for students to use on a daily basis in the classroom setting?

●     Versatility – Can the technology can be used for more than one activity or purpose? Would the transition between the activities be easy for students and teachers to facilitate?

The Best High Tech Tools

The above questions and criteria have been taken into account when considering the top high tech tool for children with special needs. All three of these technological advancements can be used in a variety of practical ways to help children learn in the special education classroom.

Tablets and iPads – These high tech tools get high marks in versatility because they can be used in so many ways. Use an iPad or a tablet as a:

●     Projector

●     Mouse

●     Keyboard

●     Camera

●     Video camera

●     Remote for white boards

The availability and affordability of tablets and iPads also make them easy for parents, counselors and teachers to provide them for kids with special needs.

Vacancy – July Provision- Teacher Wanted

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Vacancy in North County Dublin for home teaching position for July ( The July Provision).

Applicants must have a Primary Degree ( discipline not relevant) – Please contact tommy@myspecialneeds.ie

Our Worlds United – www.ourworldsunited.org

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

slider1

Hi All

I have not being posting on this site for quite some time! The reason being that myself and Audrey are planning a new and exciting event to be held in the Phoenix Park on Saturday 8th September 2012.

This will be a festival and grand
celebration of disability in Ireland and the World. The venue is already booked
for that day.

We will host this event in conjunction with all of the
organisations in Ireland that act as advocates for people with disabilities and
the event is called
Our Worlds United. Over 40
organisations have already
‘signed up’ to be part of this event
including Down Syndrome Ireland, Special Olympics Ireland and Fragile X.

The Dublin
event will  cater for
100,000
people in the Phoenix Park


The objectives of
the event are many with the key objectives being:

1. To raise Awareness of Disabilities and their issues.


2.       To
Unite
all the Disability  representative bodies for 1 day with one voice.


3.       To ‘
Normalise’ or ‘mainstream’ disability i.e.  people’s special needs should
not define them

We expect
that it will be a day to remember and a defining moment in the history of Disabilities Advocacy.

The afternoon will  host live bands (we hope to get some or all of the
following: Boyzone, Westlife, Jedward, U2) , funfairs, face painting, music,
dance and games. It will also feature Speakers and contributors from around the
globe , and celebrity actor Colin Farrell
has already agreed to be our Keynote Speaker.



Fingal Community TV (FCTV) are making a documentary about the making of the
event – and filming has already begun.

But it gets even
better!
– we have spoken with Vicki Graff and Gregory
Ruzzin-both of whom are professors at Loyola Marymount University in Los
Angeles –and they suggested that we run simultaneous events in LA, South
Africa, Hong Kong, UK and Finland. Vicki has already said it will happen in LA
and is confident that South Africa will also happen. It will be truly a Global Event.


Although there is a time difference we can synchronise a huge fire works
display simultaneously around the globe at a certain time – albeit it will be
the middle of the night for some venue/venues.

The event will be the culmination of a massive media campaign across all media
channels over the next 8 months.


We have already recruited a ‘small army’ of volunteers to help make this event
happen and we have an experienced  professional event management company
in place to deliver the day in conjunction with ourselves.

Please visit our website www.ourworldsunited.org for further details.

We are currently securing financial backing for the event – and once this has been secured we can go public with the event- hopefully in the next few weeks.

If you or your organisation would like to get involved in any way with this initiative – we would be delighted to hear from you – as this is a huge undertaking and we will need as much input as possible from volunteers.


We hope that you will all attend the event – as ticket prices will be affordable – and it is not a fund raiser – but an AWARENESS raiser!


Teachers- interesting take!

Monday, March 7th, 2011
teachersThis is taken from:www.davidjcarey.com- a very interesting website!
 
Teachers as Second Chance!

 

The great psychologist and contemporary of Freud, Alfred Adler (1870-1937) stated over and over again that the teacher was the second chance for every student. So powerful was the influence of the teacher that Adler believed he or she could overcome nearly all of the mistakes in child rearing the parents had made. The critically important role of the classroom teacher, in both primary and secondary school, is becoming firmly underpinned by new neuroscientific research. In this article I will address this important role from a number of viewpoints: neuroscience, cultural tradition, proverbs and poetry. The purpose of this article is to stimulate interest in my thesis and inspire teachers to believe in themselves as healing agents in the lives of children and adolescents.

A Story to Begin

All life is a story, lived forward, understood backwards , but a story none the less. So we will begin with an excerpt from a children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams. In this book, essentially a fable about the restorative power of love, Williams tells the tale of a little boy who is given a stuffed rabbit as a toy. He is a sickly child and has been gifted with many toys. Indeed, the nursery is filled with toys, stuffed, mechanical, toys of all sorts. The rabbit he is given has real thread whiskers and a round bottom. It can’t stand up on its own and tends to fall over if not held. The velveteen rabbit becomes the best loved of all the toys in the nursery as the boy hugs it and kisses it each day and night for many days.

Well, toys being what they are do get jealous and so it transpires that the other toys in the nursery get angry with the rabbit and begin to make fun of it. “You’re not real” they say with scorn. The mechanical toys are especially vicious. They tell the rabbit that they know he isn’t real because he can’t move like they can. All these insulting horrible comments hurt the rabbit deeply and, in a desperate attempt to make sense of his world he turns to the wisest toy in the nursery, the skinless horse.

You see, the skinless horse had once been the child’s favourite toy; so loved, kissed and hugged that his fur had been worn off and his button eyes were falling out. But the love he had received had made him wise and honest and now, sitting in the back of the boy’s closet with all the other discarded toys, he enjoyed the status of a wise elder.
The velveteen rabbit approached the skinless horse and told him he was being jeered and mocked by the other toys. He told him what they said, that he wasn’t “real” and ask the skinless horse a profound question, though the rabbit didn’t know it was profound: “What is real?” Well, the skinless horse, being wise as a result of having been loved, answered, “Real isn’t something you are, its something you become. It takes a long time.” The rabbit pondered this answer and then asked another weighty question: “Does it hurt to become real?”
The skinless horse, being wise and trustful had this to say in response: “Yes, it hurts to become real. Sometimes before you are real all your skin is rubbed off and one eye is hanging out. That’s why becoming real doesn’t often happen to things with sharp edges.”

At this point I want to remind my readers that, like the educational philosopher Friedreich Froebel, I believe that the power of stories is intrinsic and needs no explanation. So I will not tell you about the story or reveal its moral, I will let its truth find its way into your heart.

The Neuroscience of the Second Chance

Nearly all educators have studied attachment theory sometime during their course of study to prepare as a qualified educator. Attachment theory, originally espoused by John Bowlby, posits that the “bond” between mother and infant lays down important patterns of development that influence the child’s adjustment and behaviour. Bowlby spoke of the bond between mother and child but subsequent researchers have recognised that attachment arises out of the bond between the primary caregiver, male or female, between caregiver and infant. Attachments can be either “secure” or “insecure”.

A secure attachment helps the child feel loved and lovable. A child who feels this way will go out in the world and be able to interact with other children and adults in a productive way. This child will believe that people care, will respond to their needs, and comfort them when necessary. This child will also be able to enter the world of new facts, figures and knowledge without undue anxiety. On the other hand a child who is insecurely attached will develop the opposite belief patterns. This child will find it hard to trust adults and to believe adults are comforting people. This child will find it difficult to learn new facts because it will be too anxiety provoking to do so. Either way our initial attachments lay down important neural pathways that result in the internal templates through which we view the world.

Recent neuroscientific research has uncovered a group of neurons located in the brain called mirror neurons. This interesting group of neurons play an important role in social cognition and social relationships. Mirror neurons are activated when we do something: play music, dance, move our hands or arms for example. Incredibly, they also activate when we watch someone do the same thing. In other words, mirror neurons are the electrical-chemical substrates that facilitate all social interaction. They activate when we smile and when we see a smile. They activate when we or others frown. They respond to non-verbal behaviour that we observe in others. Mirror neurons can be said to be the glue of social relationships.

It is the mirror neurons that are largely responsible for the formation of attachment, secure or insecure. But because they continue to grow and develop as we age these neuron remain important mediators in how we humans get along with one another. When a child in a classroom sees a teacher’s smiling face the child responds with feelings of comfort. If they see a frown or cross expression they generate similar emotions within themselves. The important role of mirror neurons makes it possible for the teacher to correct attachments when they are not secure. This correction lays down new and positive templates helping a child to feel loved, cared for and nurtured, not only in the classroom but in the wider world.

The Poetry of the Second Chance

In the early 20th century in America a lawyer began to write poetry. Edgar Lee Masters was a scholar of Greek and Latin. His studies had led him to a collection of Greek poetry known as the Greek Anthology. These were short poems and epigrams written from the point of view of famous and unknown people, deceased and commenting on their lives. Entranced with the Greek Anthology, Masters wrote Spoon River Anthology , a collection of post-modern” epitaphs” of former citizens of the fictitious Spoon River, Illinois.

Three of his poems speak loudly to the notion that the teacher is the second chance for every pupil and student. I will quote each of the three poems in turn and have a few words to say about each in relation to my thesis.

Henry Layton
Whoever thou are who passest by
Know that my father was gentle,
And my mother was violent,
While I was born the whole of such hostile halves,
Not intermixed and fused,
But each distinct, feebly soldered together.
Some of you saw me as gentle,
Some as violent,
Some as both.
But neither half of me wrought my ruin.
It was the falling asunder of halves,
Never a part of each other,
That left me a lifeless soul.

Powerful truths speak out from this poem. The deep polarity of gentleness and violence are mixed together in one personality. However they are not fused into a union of opposite and the result is that people never noticed the whole person, only one half or the other. The falling apart of halves which was the inevitable consequence of life led without a union of its parts.

Is it possible that the teacher is a “welder of souls”? Is it possible that in being the second chance for every child we can fuse opposites into a union and totality? Is it possible that we can help those children and adolescents who come to us as a collection of sharp edges become “real”?

Emily Sparks

Where is my boy, my boy-
In what far part of the world?
The boy I loved best of all in the school?-
I, the teacher, the old maid, the virgin heart,
Who made them all my children.
Did I know my boy aright,
Thinking of him as spirit aflame,
Active, ever aspiring?
Oh, boy, boy, for whom I prayed and prayed
In many a watchful hour at night,
Do you remember the letter I wrote you
Of the beautiful love of Christ?
And whether you ever took it or not,
My boy, wherever you are,
Work for your soul’s sake,
That all the clay of you, all of the dross of you,
May yield to the fire of you,
Till the fire is nothing but light1
Nothing but light!

The village school teacher with a pure heart, the teacher who made all the children her children, sees the light inside this boy. She recognises him as containing the opposites of clay and dross and beseeches him to yield to the goodness of the burning flame within him to unite these opposites. Here again Masters perceives the incredible and unknowable conflict of opposites contained within the human soul. Here again he underscores the vital importance of uniting these opposites. Only this time he inserts the teacher as the healing agent.

Well, what of Emily Sparks and her exhortation to her boy? Well, as it happens the boy himself lies in the Cemetery of Spoon River and reminisces about his teacher.

Rueben Pantier”
 Well, Emily Sparks, your prayers were not wasted,
Your love was not all in vain.
I owe whatever I was in life
To your hope that would not give me up,
To your love that saw me still as good.
Dear Emily Sparks, let me tell you the story.
I pass the effect of my father and mother,
The milliner’s daughter made me trouble
And out I went in the world,
Where I passed through every peril known
Of wine and women and joy of life.
One night, in a room in the Rue de Rivoli,
I was drinking wine with a black-eyed cocotte,
And the tears swam into my eyes.
She thought they were amorous tears and smiled         �
For thought of her conquest over me.
But my soul was three thousand miles away,
In the days when you taught me in Spoon River.
And just because you no more could love me,
Nor pray for me, nor write me letters,
The eternal silence of you spoke instead.
And the black-eyed cocotte took the tears for hers,
As well as the deceiving kisses I gave her.
Somehow, from that hour, I had a new vision-
Dear Emily Sparks!

In this most remarkable poem Masters unites the teacher and the student in the broken life of a boy saved across time and space by the healing, silent memories of his teacher. Not just any teacher but the teacher who never gave up on him, who would saw him still as good despite the trouble of his life. The teacher who loved him “best of all the school”. What a wonderful reverie on the healing and life-saving role of the teacher. Masters, the millionaire lawyer and poet knew in his heart what Adler, attachments theorists and contemporary neuroscientists are now proving: the teacher is the second chance for every child.

Proverbs and the Second Chance
Bí go maith leis an ngarlach agus tiocfaidh sé amárach.
Be good to the child and he will come to you tomorrow.

Is society in general being good to the child? Where is the goodness in a Department of Education that spends millions of euro in the high court fighting the legal actions of parents of children with autism rather than fund, establish, resource and appropriate educational programmes for them? Where is the goodness in a Heath Executive that permits the child and adolescent psychiatric service to be stifled with horrendous waiting lists? Where is the goodness in teacher training programmes that spend little time preparing mainstream teachers to teach children with special needs while at the same time fostering the notion that every qualified teacher is also a qualified special education teacher? Where is the goodness that permits the Department of Education and Science to provide so little continuing professional development and not to reward those who do complete it with an increased salary allowance? It is a wonder, in view of the above, that our children come to us tomorrow.

Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí.
Praise the young and they will blossom.

Although seemingly a good notion to praise children the proverb fails to appreciate the power of encouragement over praise. Praise is external, coming from the powerful adult world in school. Praise focuses on the product a child has produced and is highly dependent on the arbitrary decisions a teacher has made about what standard of work to praise. Slow learners and performers in school do not receive much praise as so often the bar is set too high. Encouragement focuses on the effort a child has put into completing their work. Encouragement focuses no the feelings children have when they put sufficient effort into work and the feelings they have when they don’t.
Mitigating against the power these lovely proverbs have is the social reality that children have few rights vested under Irish law, social policy or the constitution itself. The potential of the teacher to be a second chance for every child is reduced by social factors including large class size, small classrooms, limited teaching resources, the pressurised curriculum at both primary and secondary level and the crushing weight of an exam-driven secondary educational system which places value primary on how many students go on to third-level education as opposed to how many students leave school equipped to live a life of dignity, self-respect, self-confidence and the ability to be contributing members of society.

Conclusion

In writing this piece I have focused on the healing role of the teacher in the life of every child. I have underscored this notion with evidence from a founding figure of psychology, from a children’s story and from poetry, from attachment theory, from the neurosciences and from Irish proverbial wisdom about children. I have introduced the mitigating factors of society-at-large and the role of those who dictate to us how families, children and teachers have to live their lives-our government and its policy makers.

It is true that the teacher is the second chance. I encourage teachers to meditate on this basic fact and to recognise that their highest worth is not to be determined by how much knowledge they instil but rather on the impact of their healing role in the lives of children who bring to them “sharp edges.”

 

A real set back for Inclusion- Lucan Educate Together – a disgrace!

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Lucan educate together

A DUBLIN school was entitled to refuse to enrol a boy in a class for children with autism, the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe yesterday upheld a challenge by Lucan Educate Together National School to a Department of Education appeals committee decision allowing an appeal by the child’s parents against the school’s refusal in late 2007 to enrol him in its outreach class for children with autism.

While it was accepted the class had capacity for the child, the school refused enrolment on grounds he did not meet the criterion for enrolment in light of a psychologist’s report stating he had “significant” learning disability and significant developmental delay.

The school’s criterion for enrolment included only a “mild” learning disability and the school said the services available to it could not meet the child’s needs.

The parents appealed under Section 29 of the Education Act and the appeals committee allowed that appeal and directed the child be enrolled in January 2008. The committee found the child met the “main criteria” for enrolment but the school then took judicial review proceedings.

Yesterday, Mr Justice O’Keeffe found in favour of the school.

While it was not unreasonable for the committee to describe autism as the main criterion for enrolment, and there was no issue that there was capacity in the outreach class for the child, other aspects of the committee’s decision were unreasonable and invalid, the judge found.

 

 

DisabiLity

The committee’s conclusion that the child had a mild learning disability was unreasonable, given the facts and evidence in the case, he ruled.

The judge said the report relied on by the committee at the appeal could not be read as establishing the child suffered from a mild learning disability.

The report referred to the child having “adaptive skills” within the “mild range of adaptive functioning” This was a different condition to a learning disability, he said.

Source Evening Herald

We at My Special Needs say Shame on You Lucan Educate Together! The effort you spent ( and the money! ) bringing this case to the high court should have been spent on resources within the school to facilitate the boy’s learning.

Enrolment Policies in Schools- the big problem in our Education System

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

School enrolment policies

Tuesday January 11 2011

AFTER more than 40 years of free education, isn’t it incredible that we are still playing out the game of education on a pitch skewed by discrimination, class consciousness, income and family background?

There is a belief in the minds of some that they do not have to deal with what they consider the unpleasant business of problem students, Travellers, students with special needs and, generally anyone who might impact on their self-constructed coziness.

Irish education is not played out on a level pitch and a detailed study of schools’ admission policies reveals the common thread — that many of them have devised imaginative ways of setting the slope on the pitch:

-By giving preference to the brothers or sisters of existing students or children of former pupils.

– By reserving places for certain feeder schools or parishes.

-By reserving places for the children of full-time members of staff.

-By taking applications only from students who are in third or fourth class in their primary feeder schools and who have an €800 non-refundable deposit.

-By requiring parents to have the resources to participate in an “induction weekend”.

-By telling parents at the open evening that they want only “honours students”.

 This list is not exhaustive. In some schools the restrictions are innocent and simply exist by custom and practice. In others, however, they are very carefully crafted to enable the school to “cherry pick” its intake. In many towns the length and breadth of the country, this covert form of social apartheid is in operation.

The Department of Education is well aware of this but, like so many problems, refuses to deal with it until, as with the banking crisis, it becomes unmanageable.

Why do I say this? Back in 2007 the department carried out an audit of admission policies with particular reference to assessing the treatment of pupils with special educational needs, Travellers and newcomers who arrived here to settle. The survey looked at about 50pc of schools in limited geographic areas and, perhaps most significantly of all, did not include any fee-paying schools. Notwithstanding that fundamental flaw, it threw up some astonishing results.

Schools in the vocational and community sector bore an unequal representation of pupils with special needs, and Traveller and newcomer backgrounds in comparison with their secondary counterparts. Perhaps the most staggering statistic from that report and the one that would leave any reader speechless was the revelation that in one mixed vocational school in the West 55.84pc of the pupils had special educational needs whereas in the same small geographic area two secondary schools had just 2.5pc of pupils with special needs. This is not something that just happens by accident.

The then minister, Mary Hanafin, decided to go into consultation mode and, in a letter to management bodies and other agencies asking them to comment on the audit findings, set the stage for the replies by advising that “the audit did not find evidence of problematic enrolment practice on a system-wide scale”.

At the time the department received about 18 replies from parents’ bodies, unions, management bodies, the National Education Welfare Board and the Equality Tribunal. The responses reveal a deep-seated and fractious divide across a plethora of fault lines among the various parties.

However, one line was strong and clear: unions and the vocational and community patronage bodies favour more regulation and an end to discrimination whereas the religious patronage representative bodies, quite simply, are not up for change. Why should they be, hasn’t the slope run with them for a long time now?

There is no doubt that the nettle of discriminatory enrolment policies and covert means of cherry picking pupils will have to be grasped and grasped quickly as the enrolment season opens because there is now the unavoidable issue that every policy which sets down discriminatory criteria for applicants is unlawful and there are a great many such policies all around the country.

There is a real opportunity for the department to learn from the bitter experience we have had in the banking sector that soft-touch regulation is not good public policy in an area where those with vested interests can take unfair advantage.

Rather than require individuals to vindicate their rights before bodies like the Equality Tribunal, the department must now step up to the plate and manage this proactively. As we look to what is undoubtedly a future of diminished resources and expenditure in education, it is now time for the State to level the pitch and to draft and implement a set of admission regulations which all state-recognised and state-funded schools will have to abide by or run the risk of having their recognition and funding withdrawn.

Some will read this and say these are side issues that we are now too broke to tackle. To them I respond that these are core issues and, fundamentally, they are part of the reason why we are broke now.

Gearoid O Bradaigh

Gearoid is a practising barrister and consultant on school management issues and former CEO of Westmeath VEC

taken from Irish Independent Tuesday 11th January

Assistive Technology Goes Mainstream

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I Phone

Assistive Technology Goes Mainstream With the launch of the iPad and the increasing popularity of the iPhone and other mobile devices, the number of apps catering to people with disabilities exploded in 2010. Those with communication challenges are increasingly turning to the hip, affordable technology to give themselves voice. And parents are relying on apps to do everything from tracking behavior trends to taking notes at IEP meetings. In a move that solidified the disability community’s significance to the technology market, Apple launched a section of its iTunes Store in October specifically highlighting apps for special education use.

Special Needs Technology

Monday, October 18th, 2010

sentechheader

My name is Ann Jackson. I am the National Technology & Special Needs Advisor, employed by the Special Education Section of the Department of Education & Science. The service offers advice and information on most aspects of Assistive Technology (AT) and ICT that can be employed to  support the education and learning of students with special needs in Irish schools.

What is the service?

Advice, support and information is offered to all those who are involved in the education of school students with special needs.  Contact can be initiated by School Principals, teachers, SNAs, parents, therapists, psychologists, education centers and SENOs. Communication with special interest groups, parent support groups and other service providers are also welcomed.

The service is funded by the Department of Education & Science (DES) with the support of the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) in Clontarf. The Advisor is based in the CRC but can be contacted by email, phone or fax as well as through the website. There is no charge for accessing the service.

What can you request?

Advice and information can be given on

  • General or specific information on technologies available to support the education of students with special needs and a range of disabilities
  • Hardware and peripherals for individuals or groups of students
  • Standard and specialized educational software
  • A range of non-tech and low-tech options and alternatives
  • Educational strategies and guidelines for use of these technologies and materials in various educational settings

A series of advice sheets on strategies, school and classroom planning for technology, software selection, sourcing equipment and other issues can be provided where appropriate.

Rationale

Technology is not a “magic answer” but rather an interactive multimedia resource that can provide a motivational teaching and learning tools for a wide range of students.

Emphasis is placed on using technology to support the curriculum or the individual education plan of the student(s). It is important to provide advice and information that is specific to the particular needs of the student and the school rather than a global generic “solution”

If you have a query on an aspect of technology for a student with special needs that you wish to discuss contact ajackson@crc.ie

Down Syndrome ” look at the person not the disability”

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

 

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Breaking barriers: Reporter Michael Gannon with his mother, May. Picture: Ronan Lang

When Declan Murphy moved away from his home in Waterford to go to Trinity College in Dublin, he knew his mum was worried about him. Declan (33) has Down Syndrome, but that may not have been the entire root of mum’s concern.

“Well, I am the youngest of the family,” says Declan. “I think she missed me.”

Declan is part of an independent-minded, articulate generation of Irish people who have grown up with Down Syndrome but are refusing to be defined by it.

Big into politics,” he is one of a group of young adults with Down Syndrome who have been lobbying politicians as part of their ‘My Opinion, My Vote’ campaign to reform national policies that would help people with DS to attain their work, life and educational goals.

“I asked them for easy-to-read information in simple language and large fonts so we can learn about our rights,” says Declan. “We are Irish citizens, yet we aren’t able to get the same rights as everyone else.”

May Gannon, counsellor and drama-therapist with Down Syndrome Ireland, says that when Declan and other members of the group put their views to politicians from every party in Dublin last March, the legislators were “blown away” by their presentation.

“What they had were people with Down Syndrome telling them that when they opened the door to politicians canvassing, the politicians would say ‘Is your mum and dad in?’ rather than looking for their vote.”

Orla Hannon, a 23-year-old woman with Down Syndrome from Sixmilebridge in Co Clare, says she felt “strong and confident” when she gave the same presentation in Budapest and in Rome.

“We want to empower people with disability to participate in the political process,” she says. “We want the right to get proper education, and get jobs.”

Orla is devoted to books — she reads every night — and would like to work in a library. Her international political canvassing has given her a taste for travel. “I wouldn’t mind going to Denmark,” she says.

In essence, these are adults with dreams, ambitions and opinions. May Gannon’s son Michael, for example, says that although his outgoing personality means he feels people see beyond his Down Syndrome, that equality must become the norm.

“People need to look at the person, not the disability,” he says.

When journalist and broadcaster Brendan O’Connor wrote movingly about the birth of his new baby daughter Mary — who has Down Syndrome — in the Sunday Independent more than a week ago, he made special note of a piece of advice given to himself and his wife Sarah to “remember always that Mary is our baby, one half of each of us, and not a member of some tribe of Down’s people, a membership that sets her apart from us”.

This is absolutely vital for everyone to understand — not just those close to someone with DS, says May.

“People with Down Syndrome are as different from each other as the families they come from,” she says. “As to their ability level — they sometimes live up or down to the expectations of people around them.”

Pat Dorgan has more than lived up to the expectations of his family. The 46-year-old from Cork won two medals for Ireland in table tennis at the 2007 Special Olympics World Games in China and subsequently featured in a national poster campaign for the sport. His brother, the poet Theo Dorgan, composed a poem called My Brother for a pre-Games gala.

His sister Angela calls Pat “the glue that holds the family together”. Pat and those high-achieving adults like him are changing the perception of what a person with Down Syndrome can do. It’s a welcome progression, says Angela, from the condescension of old.

“A phrase that used to drive us mad as kids was, ‘Ah sure, God help us’,” she recalls. “People would ask us if he took sugar in his tea. We’d say: ‘Why don’t you ask him?'”

Similarly, 19-year-old Roisin de Burca from Connemara attracted positive attention last year when she became one of the few people with Down Syndrome to complete a full Leaving Certificate — and she did all her subjects through Irish. She then completed a FETAC course in Business Administration at Galway IT.

“I felt proud of myself, something I can accomplish in life, something that belongs to me alone instead of the family,” Roisin said last June after she won Bank of Scotland student of the year.

“We have moved from a time when people considered that a person with Down Syndrome was ineducable,” says May.

“Research tells us that there is nothing that can be delivered in a special school that can’t be considered in a mainstream school, given the proper supports.”

Getting access to this support — special-needs assistants, access to visual learning materials, speech therapy etc — is a cause of worry, however.

Just this month, Andrew Boyle, whose daughter Zoe (7) has Down Syndrome, challenged Education Minister Mary Coughlan on the withdrawal of Zoe’s special-needs assistance hours from 25 to five a week.

Pat Clarke, CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland, says that most of the charity’s monies comes from fundraising initiatives like next month’s Honey Days.

As better medical care ensures that the average life expectancy of a person with Down Syndrome has increased dramatically, it has thrown up new long-term challenges in relation to accommodation, employment and living.

“Our expectations and the expectations of our children have moved on,” says Pat, whose son David (29) has Down Syndrome. “David’s out there in the community, he’s an excellent swimmer and has won a couple of medals for Ireland, he’s at Dundalk IT three days a week and works at Tesco. He has a blue belt in Taekwondo. He could live independently. We’re in the process of organising a housing association in our local area in Drogheda to do it.”

The fact that the one in every 600 babies born in Ireland with Down Syndrome can now expect an average life expectancy of anything between 55 to 65/70 years can be cheering and sobering at the same time.

Peter Gaw, founder of the Down Syndrome Centre, says: “You get the initial shock of the diagnosis and within hours you’re already thinking, ‘What’s going to happen when I’m not there?'”

Peter’s two youngest children, daughter Tara (11) and son Harrison (9), were both born with Down Syndrome. It is important, he thinks, that parents of children with Down Syndrome are given hope and told that “it’s not all doom and gloom”.

“You try to get back to as normal a life as you can,” says Peter. “My older two children are really good with the two young ones. We wouldn’t change our family.”

The Down Syndrome Centre now funds the country’s first Down Syndrome liaison nurse, who works out of the National Children’s Hospital in Tallaght. She reassures and informs parents when their baby is born with the condition, helping them get through what Sheila Campbell, Chief Executive of the centre, calls the “miasma” of confusion and hurt.

Beyond that, integration into mainstream schools is crucial, says May Gannon: “We might never have known a person with Down Syndrome growing up, whereas now the younger generation will tell you about Mary or Joe ‘who is in my class in school and loves A, B and C’.”

Down Syndrome Ireland (www.downsyndrome.ie) has 24 branches across the country. Their Boyne Valley Honey Days Campaign for October has pots of honey for sale for €2. www.downsyndromecentre.ie is a wonderful resource for people with DS and their families. They have also launched the first online charity dress shop with www.buymydress.ie

– Susan Daly

Irish Independent

Albert Einstein had a learning disability!

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Many people who have a disability don’t let it prevent them from leading full and rich lives, indeed some are an inspiration to both disabled and non-disabled people alike. Below is a list of disabled people who have achieved outstanding success despite their disability.

1. Stephen Hawking is probably one of the world’s best known high achievers with a disability. He is an internationally renowned physicist / mathematician who suffers from Motor Neurone Disease. At 35 he was Cambridge’s first Gravitational Physics Professor and received the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics Award. He has written a best selling book which was later made into a film called A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes.

2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the United States. He contracted Polio in 1921 which left him paralysed from the waist down. Refusing to accept his paralysis he tried different therapies and methods to try and walk and did master walking short distances using iron braces and a cane. He was careful not to be seen in a wheelchair in public. He established a foundation to help others with Polio and directed the March of Dimes program which eventually funded an effective vaccine.

3. Another successful politician, Pat Stack is a left wing revolutionary and part of the Socialist Workers Party committee. A child born from a Thalidomide pregnancy he uses a wheelchair. A great political mind and brilliant orator he holds meetings every year at Marxism in London and wrote ‘Stack on the Back’ for the Socialist Review until 2004.

4. David Blunkett was an MP, Education Secretary, Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at various times. He has been blind since birth and has never let this fact hold him back in any aspect of his life.

5. Tanni Grey Thompson OBE is probably the best known disabled athlete, representing Britain in distances from 100m to 800m. She has won 14 Paralympic medals including 9 gold’s and she has broken over 20 records. She has also won 5 London Marathons as a wheelchair athlete and has become a TV presenter.

6. Marla Runyan is a legally blind marathon runner and has set several track and field records at the Paralympics in Atlanta, 1996. She has represented the US at the 2000 Olympics and became the first legally blind athlete to compete in an Olympics.

7. Itzhak Perlman is an Israeli-American violinist, conductor and teacher. He is a renowned musician who contracted Polio at age four and today uses crutches or a wheelchair and plays the violin while seated. In 1986 he received the Medal of Liberty from President Reagan. He is also an advocate for people with disabilities and promotes laws to allow easier access to buildings and transport.

8. Francisco Goya (1746-1828) was a Spanish painter who suffered an illness which left him deaf at 46. He went on to create some of the best known Spanish art of the 19th Century. He provided inspiration for the work of later artists including Picasso and Monet.

9. Helen Keller was an American author, political activist and lecturer who was blind, deaf and mute. She was the first deaf and blind person to be awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree.

10. Albert Einstein, the famous mathematician and physicist, had a learning disability and did not speak until he was three years old. He found maths and writing difficult at school but went on to become one of the best known scientists of all time winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.einstein