One family, two approaches to special needs

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Fraser is almost 8 years old and has always lived with a condition called inherited myasthenia," writes his mother, Marianne Dryburgh, of Falkirk.

"It causes profound weakness in every muscle in his body and he requires medication every three hours during the day to provide his muscles with a boost of their missing chemical.

"The slightest knock or bump can send him reeling to the floor, so he requires additional support when he is moving from one part of the school to another and in particular in the gym or during the interval.

"His poor head control means he also requires specialised seating in the classroom.

"To complicate matters further, he passes out several times a year, generally at interval or lunch time. None of this has fazed his school or any of the staff.

"Getting Fraser into the education process at the right time was a priority for us as parents. We first met with the educational psychologist for Falkirk Council before Fraser's second birthday, to ensure that his pre-school learning moved at the right pace, even though his physical development was very delayed. Excellent supported nursery places were made available to him by Falkirk's education services.

"Shieldhill Primary was the catchment school for Fraser's big brothers, although we had moved to a different area before Fraser went to school.

"All the things that the Additional Support for Learning Act is seeking to address were made available to us as parents and Fraser by the school when he joined the nursery class aged three. No demanding, persuading or cajoling has been necessary for anything he has required because the school, and in particular the headteacher, Janice Collins, was driving the process, finding out about his condition, informing all relevant staff, constantly reviewing his needs to suit everything from occupational therapy to changing weather conditions.

"We did not require a piece of legislation to provide for Fraser's additional support needs.

"Contrast this with the experiences of our eldest child, Lewis, as he began his education some seven years previously.

"By the November of Primary 1 it was obvious to us that Lewis was not coping with his early reading and writing experience. The school was managed by a different headteacher at that time and it was made clear to us that, in the opinion of the headteacher, any problems with Lewis lay firmly at our door.

"At the end of his first year of secondary school, it was identified that Lewis actually experienced severe learning difficulties with reading and writing and had marked attention deficit problems.

"While Graeme High has done much to improve his self-esteem and confidence - problems that result from feeling disengaged from the education system as a young child - the differences in approach to Lewis and Fraser in their formative education phase have created two children with very different levels of confidence.

"It is my sincere hope that the ASL Act will provide this level of support for all children whose needs adversely affect their education. However, I feel that what drives the process will always be people, people who want to see a fairer system for all.

"My experience as a child was that where someone was different, they would generally be left on the sidelines. When Fraser started school, he appeared to be very popular. Even older children seemed to want him to notice them.

"I mentioned to the school staff that I was surprised by this - it's not as if he can join in their running around activities! - and wondered if he operated some sort of confectionery ring at break time. I was left in no doubt that this was an insult to my son's outgoing and popular personality.

As time goes on, this remains the case.

"The inherent ethos of any school will direct the atmosphere and attitudes adopted by the children.

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