Seanad debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Adjournment Matters

Special Educational Needs

5:35 pm

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

The issue I am raising on the Adjournment relates to an anomaly in the allocation of educational resource hours to children with Down's syndrome who attend mainstream primary schools. Down's syndrome is a chromosomal anomaly which causes a global development delay. Approximately 80 children with this syndrome are enrolled in mainstream primary schools each year and the syndrome is not currently listed by the Department of Education and Skills as a complex low-incidence disorder. This means that some children with Down's syndrome are not entitled to resource hours. It is estimated that approximately 40% of children in the State who have Down's syndrome do not receive an allocation of resource hours. Some 82 children in County Donegal with Down's syndrome do not receive resource hours in mainstream primary schools, which is wholly inappropriate, as it is creating an inequality in the education system. It discriminates against children with Down's syndrome.

As I understand it, the Department's special education circular, 02/05, provides that a child with Down's syndrome must have a second disability in order to access vital resource hours. I have a copy of the circular with me in the Chamber. I am calling for Down's syndrome to be recognised in its own right by the Department. Children with Down's syndrome cannot and should not be categorised as having mild or moderate learning disabilities. Such a categorisation does not reflect all of the aspects of the syndrome generically.

Education policy in Ireland places children with Down's syndrome at a disadvantage or in an unfair position by not supporting their full educational development to the degree that other people with disabilities are supported in the system. The children concerned deserve every opportunity to reach their full potential. They deserve to be treated in a manner which encompasses the word "equality" and allows them to be cherished equally within the education system. They deserve to be allowed to advance their educational opportunities. This is obviously an issue that needs to be addressed. We are talking about a small number of pupils within the State and we are doing them a great disservice by not allowing Down's syndrome to be regarded as a full-scale disability and not allowing the children concerned to develop to their full potential. I hope the Minister of State will take this on board. I know Down Syndrome Ireland has been lobbying to have this anomaly corrected and hope the Minister of State and the Minister will be in a position to deal with this issue and put matters right as quickly as possible.


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