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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C

My daughter is clever, funny, and full of life. So why am I so worried about her future?

To live a full adult life and contribute to society, my daughter urgently needs resource hours in school.

‘I could be anything at all, with half the chance. But today I am going to change the world.’

THIS IS THE quotation that our Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan TD spoke when addressing the IPPN Annual Teachers’ Conference on 30 January of this year.
She stated that line was written to describe the innocent ambition of childhood.
Does she realise that this quotation is also the ambition adopted by Down Syndrome Ireland to promote the values and contributions to society of persons with Down Syndrome?

Are these just words that the minister is speaking or do they have any meaning for her? I have a child with Down Syndrome, she is bright, clever, funny and full of life and happiness. She loves dancing and gymnastics and her Frozen doll. She has many friends. Everyone knows Anna, her beaming smile and her attempts at independence. (“I do by my own self, mammy.”)

I try to keep optimistic, but my child is being let down by the system

I have my hopes and dreams for Anna. She could be anything at all. But like Brendan O’Connor’s daughter, Mary, described in his wonderful article last weekend in the Sunday Independent, Anna has a diagnosis or label of Down Syndrome.

It’s mild. I should be rejoicing and celebrating; my glass is half-full, my daughter has a chance, she has “good cognitive scores”. They tell me this means she has a good IQ. So what happens next? Anna goes to mainstream school. They tell me there is a good inclusive system in place. I learn new acronyms like NCSE, NEPPS, SEENO and NESS. Anna will get the educational supports she needs.

But it’s not true at all, just words.

Anna is an exceptional child, she went through junior infants, senior infants and first class with no learning support and no resource teaching. Her teachers over the years consistently say that Anna brings a very positive dimension to the class. But now she has developed emotional and behavioural issues; it was only when she did poorly in a sten test at the end of first class that she qualified for limited learning support this year.

She needs extra help in the form of resource teaching – and she needs it now

Anna has the usual problems associated with Down Syndrome: global developmental delay, slow speech and language skills, problems with gross and fine motor skills and some vision problems. In other words she is not always understood, she has difficulty closing buttons, holding pencils and wears glasses. She also has intermittent moderate hearing loss, which the visiting teacher says does not qualify her for the extra help that she needs.

Anna does need extra help in school. The current school system is failing my child. She needs extra help in the form of resource teaching and she needs these supports now.

At the same conference the minister also enthused:

I know that children’s education is about much more than reading and maths.


Research has shown that early intervention is often the key to improving educational outcome.

Are these just words also?

Hopes dashed

I still have my hopes but they were dashed once again on 10 February 2015. The minister announced possibilities of change, an announcement of inclusion. But not for my child, not for at least another year. These are all just words; kicked to touch for another time. The planned new system for special needs resources has been shelved.

“A robust mechanism for identifying children with complex special educational needs had yet to be finalised” is quoted under the heading of announcing the development of a new ‘inclusion’ support service.

I ask the Minister: do you have any doubts that Downs Syndrome children don’t have complex educational needs?

Stop hiding behind words and tell it like it is. Please recognise immediately the complex educational needs of children who have Down Syndrome and allocate resources without delay.

We can not wait another year. Anna is capable of being independent and of being a contributor to society. To achieve this she urgently needs resource hours.

Laura Drumm is a parent.

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