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Aid for little Richard tops my chart

WHEN our descendants look back at newspapers for this first year of the new millennium, they will conclude that the most important jobs in our community were done by entertainers, footballers and fat cat businessmen.

We even have a list of Biggest Golden Handshakes, where top businessmen are paid loads of money to stop making a mess of their companies. Unfortunately, our descendants will not find the staff of Struthers primary school in Troon on any top list, but they deserve to be there.

Struthers is where my nephew, Richard, is in primary 2. There are 30 other children in his class, but he is particularly special because he was born with brittle bones disease. Richard cannot walk. Even when he sits he has to be supported, and only a few people have the skills to carry him, since every movement is a potential break in his fragile limbs.

For much of the time he views the world from a lying-down position. That he is well-adjusted, intelligent and happy and can perform the complete Singing Kettle repertoire is entirely due to the care of his parents, Shirley and Pat, and his older brothers Greg and Neil, but the implications of Richard's enrolment in school must have been daunting for the staff at Struthers.

Just as family life changed when he was born, so did Richard bring changes to his primary school. Planning began two years before his arrival. Physical changes were made to allow easy passage for the electric wheelchair which Richard drives with finger-tip precision, but attention had to be given to his intellectual, social and emotional needs, too.

Outside agencies, particularly occupational therapy and physiotherapy, were called in and many school staff were given special training in lifting techniques to protect Richard's bones.

Most important was the decision to place computer technology at the centre of Richard's classroom learning, since his ability to hold a book or wield a pencil is severely limited. An Apple Macitosh computer was installed at home with the same software that he would use in the classroom, and it was to become central to the effective links between home and school. Other children were not forgotten either, and work was done with them at assemblies to raise awareness of Richard, his condition and his needs.

The detailed planning worked out, and Richard's primary 1 year was a roaring success. He is making good progress and loves being at school. He is part of all class activities and has a care assistant who can hold a board for him to draw numbers and shapes, as well as attending to physical needs.

His reading book is on computer and can be taken home easily to join his collection of other computer books, while writing is done using a Glidepoint, which is more manoeuvrable than a mouse. His class teacher was particularly concerned about how she would include him in PE lessons, but even that has been overcome by the use of a balloon to practise ball skills and relay courses for the wheelchair.

School staff are the first to say that Richard's high self-esteem and positive attitude have made a strong contribution to this healthy picture, but they have to take credit, too.

There are other winners in this story. Richard's parents are delighted with the attitude and efforts of the school and the education authority in South Ayrshire while, according to school staff, all their children have developed a greater sensitivity to the needs of others from knowing Richard and playing games with him.

School and parents have begun a process which is a model of inclusion. There will be many problems to face in the future, but the start being provided at Struthers is an excellent springboard from which to discover further solutions.

Next year, some British footballers will earn pound;100,000 a week for kicking a ball and raking in a hefty income for their clubs from television fees and merchandising. How can all this make sense?

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