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Special days

Maria Corby answers some irritating questions

"Down's syndrome children; they're so loving aren't they?" My visitor looks at me for confirmation. "Er... not always," I reply, rubbing my forearm. I feel a bit mean. Lisette, who has applied for a job as a lunchtime supervisor, looks crestfallen, so I explain that they have individual personalities just like everyone else.

"How many Down's syndromes have you got?" she asks.

"I've no idea. I've never really counted them." I'm beginning to think Lisette may not get the job. "We relate to the children as individuals. We don't really focus on their particular disability."

"Oh." She nods in understanding and I soften a bit.

"It must break your heart," she suggests.

"Why?" I'm getting stroppy again.

"Well, the poor childrenI" "No, it's a happy place to work, really."

"But you must get emotionally attached."

"It's like any school: we try not to get too emotionally attached, but we couldn't do our jobs properly if we didn't care about the children." "Ahh."

By the look on Lisette's face, I think I've just passed a test.

"Do you have any autistic children?" "Yes," I answer cautiously.

"I think that's ever so interesting. They've all got one special ability, haven't they?" I have to disappoint Lisette again. "All of our children have severe learning difficulties," I tell her. "Some of them have autism as well, but none of them are like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man."

Lisette looks disappointed. "So, at lunchtime, all the children are fed are they?"

"A few of them are, but we encourage the children to do as much as they can for themselves. All of the children have written programmes for lunchtime: some are working on cutting their own dinners up, serving other people or eating their own dinners using a spoon, for example."

"Oh, feeding skills," says Lisette.

"We call them eating skills."

"And the, er, ones in wheelchairs?"

"Exactly the same."

"Well, thanks for showing me round," says Lisette, "I really like the school, and the cerebral palsy children, they've all got such wonderful smiles, haven't they?

I pause. "Yes, they have." Just like all children, I think to myself.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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