Williams Syndrome Association Ireland

Choosing the School Type

A psychological assessment, indicating the child’s cognitive ability, initiated the decision-making process for most parents. However, some parents reported psychological assessments were altered based on parents’ preferred placement. It meant the decision to choose the school type was up to the parents and the psychologist adapted the report to suit this decision. The rationale for this is to do with resource allocation in mainstream. One parent explained ‘You have to be able to sound as bad as possible’ to maximise the child’s resources. The other side of the coin is also in play should you wish to send your child to a special school. Here you want your child to sound as capable as possible so she will be eligible for a special school designated for ‘mild general learning difficulties’ rather than for ‘moderate general learning difficulties’. Parental attitudes are, therefore, pivotal.
It is important to be open to all types of education and to make an informed choice. Don’t decide on one over the other without visiting a few schools. Every parent should visit a special school to see what it offers, even if you have your heart set on a mainstream placement. Many parents value the concept of including their child with the local children. Some parents also feel that there are possibilities of moving from mainstream to special, but not vice versa, so in that sense you’re better off to start with mainstream and then transfer to special when the child is no longer coping in mainstream. This is not necessarily the case, special schools are open to the concept of pupils moving to mainstream if they are more able than their peers in that setting. Some special schools will work with parents to prepare a child for a mainstream setting although many parents after a year or two in any setting are happy once the child has settled and is learning. The special class can provide the middle ground, with specialised provisions and scope for mainstream inclusion. However, a national survey showed that only half the special classes in Ireland facilitated mainstream inclusion.
Your child’s needs will also affect the placement you choose. Most families that chose special settings (special school or special class) based their decision on their child’s care needs. These children had feeding difficulties when starting school and were not toilet-trained.
Concurrent with trends towards mainstreaming, two parents were discouraged by professionals, such as psychologists, from choosing special settings because of the trend towards mainstreaming. Some families have difficulty getting a special placement, as sometimes the demand exceeds the supply of places. This is why it is necessary to start this process as soon as possible

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© Fionnuala Tynan 2014