Why do I have to keep fighting to get support for my dyslexic son?
By Mark O’Brien
A mother says she felt forced to pay out over €2000 a year to send her son to private school because she feared he wouldn’t get a good enough education for dyslexia in a non-fee paying school.
Barbara Keane, from Trim, Co Meath, says she felt there was no option but to send 11-year-old Simon to a private school in Navan, after he was only able to receive two years specialist education in a ‘reading school’.
Despite Simon’s reading ability improving dramatically while he attended St Rose’s in Tallaght, dyslexic children can only stay at these specialist facilities for two years as this is the maximum amount of time permitted by the Department of Education.
“That two years made a massive difference,” says Barbara. “He went from being in a Gaeltacht school where he couldn’t read at all to that school and he came out reading, which was fantastic.”
Simon’s time in St Roses was hugely beneficial, as he went from being at the lowest level of English and spelling when he started there to the highest class, after just two years.
This had the knock on effect of improving Simon’s confidence because he was attending a school with small classes where he could see that he was improving.
“He went to the school and he knew he wasn’t different, he was the same because all the other kids there, they all had the same issues,” says Barbara.
It makes a big difference to dyslexic children’s confidence when they can see an improvement in themselves. When they’re in a classroom with regular kids and they’re falling behind, they just give up and they don’t bother and they just daydream
There were other challenges that had to be faced over the course of Simon’s two years in St Roses.
The school is one of only four of its kind in the country, three of which are in Dublin and one in Cork and children can only stay there for a maximum of two years.
For Barbara, who lives in Trim, Co Meath, this meant having to leave at 7.15am every morning to meet a bus in Blanchardstown that would take Simon to Tallaght.
“I had to fight tooth and nail for that because there are buses that will pick up the children for St Roses but they’re discretionary and they won’t come to an area if there aren’t enough kids in that area,” says Barbara of the struggle she faced to get Simon a place on the bus to school.
Due to the travelling, Simon would often not get home until after 4pm.
After Simon’s two years in St Roses were over, Barbara began to search for a new school but after speaking to a number of principals and parents, it became clear that Simon, who also has dyspraxia, would not get the support he needs in a public school.
“You only get learning support which is discretionary,” says Barbara of the support on offer for children with dyslexia.
With dyspraxia you’re actually given resource hours but they’re not given to the child, they’re given to the school, and usually there may be a couple of kids with the condition but they might not have the resource teachers. Often the children aren’t getting the resource hours they need.
Barbara and her husband, who works as an electrician, felt they had no option but to send Simon to a private school to ensure the progress Simon made in St Roses was not undone.
Fortunately they found a Montessori school in Navan that was affordable but with Simon currently in fifth class, Barbara is worried what the future holds when he has to go on to secondary school.
“I don’t think we could afford a private secondary school, not unless our finances change between now and then,” she says.
There are other factors about secondary school that Barbara is worried about.
“What terrifies me is the workload,” she says. “They give so much homework in primary school, never mind secondary school. I’m just dreading that.”
In order to receive any support in secondary school, Simon will have to be assessed by an educational psychologist, which can cost between €300 and €700.
Barbara was lucky enough to have had this assessment free of charge when Simon was first diagnosed but it is likely that she will have to pay this time around.
Parents have to pay extra fees to pay for extra-curricular tuition – a matter that could be resolved, Barbara believes, if teachers were trained to better deal with the needs of dyslexic children.
This training is currently available to teachers but is not compulsory, in spite of the fact it is estimated one in ten people in Ireland have some form of dyslexia.
Barbara says she would also like to see:
Smaller class sizes and more support systems, actual dedicated support whether it’s during school hours or after school hours that won’t cost the parents a fortune and forms part of their public school education.
Barbara also encountered difficulty when Simon was first diagnosed; a matter she would like to see improved.
“You’re not told anything when you’re child is diagnosed first,” she says.
I had to Google all the information and speak to other parents because there’s nobody there to advise you or tell you what you need to do or what you need to know or what your child is entitled to.
There’s so much going against families in this country. It’s not a country that would encourage you to have a family, it really isn’t.
In spite of these challenges, Barbara has vowed to fight on to ensure that Simon receives the best possible standard of education.
“A child having dyslexia, it’s not the end of the world,” she says. “They just think a little differently, they have to be taught a little differently and that’s it, they can cope.”