Special Needs Parents Group

If you have questions about how we help those with special educational needs, please contact the school in confidence.

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How to talk to your child about children in the school who have special needs.

Children are naturally curious. They notice things and they want to know why?! In terms of special needs and disability, it’s always better to answer their ‘why?”. Information is the first step to understanding others and is the bedrock of inclusivity.

It goes without saying that the most important thing is attitude and experience shows that children model their parents attitude. An open, positive attitude from the parent body is key. It may also be helpful, in the first instance if you, the parent, have an awareness of the types of disability and special needs diagnoses present in our school population. There are also other medical needs in the school population.

  • The school has an Assisted Learning Class (ALC) which caters for children who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Children from the ALC also spend a part of their day in their mainstream class.
  • Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who are in their mainstream classes full-time.

Also in mainstream classes there are…

  • Children with Down Syndrome.
  • Children with a range of other educational needs, e.g. dyslexia.
  • Children with sensory processing disorders and/or attention disorders.
  • Children with physical disabilities.
  • Children with both physical and intellectual diabilities.
  • Children with Dyspraxia.
  • Children with Diabetes and other medical conditions.

Just as there are a lot of children with special needs of some kind or other within our school population, there are also a lot of people in our wider world now and in the past who have a diagnosis, see how many you recognise in this little video:


If your child asks questions about another child’s behaviour, abilities, or aids, it may be difficult to know what to say. It can be helpful to be prepared for these questions, or even better still, to begin the age appropriate conversation about disability and special needs with your child.

  • The key message to give your child is that we are all different. All children (and adults!) have their areas of strength and weakness. Socially, academically and physically we all have different levels of talent and ability. We are all different and we are all equal in value as human beings. Here’s a link to a video about being different that younger children might enjoy - http://www.nickjr.co.uk/watch/nick-jr-shorts/big-block-sing-song_different.
  • The other key message to give your child is that it is important use your words carefully. For example if your child asks ‘what’s wrong with her/him?’, you might repeat and rephrase their question, ‘You mean why is he behaving like that?” or ‘Why does she use a wheelchair?’
  • It’s always helpful to be honest. Tell your child if you don’t know the answer to his or her question. Don’t make up an answer that may not be accurate, e.g. ‘he’s special’, ‘she has a sore leg’.

Over the coming months, we will be sharing information and videos that you can watch with your child. Each one will explain and demystify a condition within our school. In the meantime here is a link to an article that you, as a parent, might find helpful: https://www.care.com/a/teaching-your-child-about-peers-with-special-needs-0812040913.

Person first: “I am not ‘a Downs child’, I am a child who has a condition called Down Syndrome”

If you don’t know somebody with Down Syndrome, it can sometimes be daunting / unnerving to know how to interact with them. What we don’t understand can make us, well, a little bit scared. So, the aim of this piece is to bring some understanding that will help you realise that people with Down Syndrome are more like us (typically developing people) than different.

What causes Down Syndrome is an extra chromosome. Our chromosomes are our building blocks that decide what colour our eyes and hair are, how tall we will grow, how fast we will learn to read, or ride a bike, whether we are good at football or singing.

"Keep calm: It's only an extra chromosome" T-shirt

Photo: Brian Carnell

Humans are usually born with 46 chromosomes; with Down Syndrome there is an extra chromosome attached to chromosome number 21, and this is what causes the physical characteristics common to Down Syndrome such as the almond shaped eyes, the longer tongue, the smaller stature. It is also the cause of the longer learning curve that people with Down Syndrome have. People with Down Syndrome are able to learn just as well as people who don’t have Down Syndrome, they just need more practice. How much more practice is needed depends on the individual, because just like any other child, children with Down Syndrome vary in their abilities and achievements. After all, there are 46 other chromosomes at work alongside chromosome 21!

The condition of Down Syndrome (DS) can bring with it increased risk of health conditions; almost half of babies born with DS have anomalies with their hearts, many may have problems with their bowels requiring surgery to repair, and it is quite common for kids with DS to have ear, nose, throat and thyroid problems. When you think about how much many of these kids have been through before they walk through the school gates, it’s quite inspiring how much zest for life kids with DS have!

Kids' questions about their classmates

Why do they ‘get away’ with being ‘bold’? It takes longer for kids with DS to understand the rules they are supposed to follow, like sharing, taking turns, and using words instead of hands to show others what they want (or what they don’t want) but they do get there. They get there faster when we can be patient and clear with them about what behaviour is ok and what is not ok.

Why do they talk funny? Depending on which site you Google, there are anything from 11 to 100 muscle groups used for talking. Muscle strength and control is part of the difficulties many kids with Down Syndrome has when talking: trying to get all these muscles working together is a tricky business!! Try filling your mouth with marshmallows, and then tell your friend what you did this morning. This will give you an idea of what it feels like for someone with Down Syndrome who is trying to talk.

Why do they stick their tongue out? The tongue of someone with DS is much longer and most mouths are actually smaller than if you haven’t Down Syndrome so, there aren’t many places for the tongue to go! Lots of kids with DS have to do particular exercises to train their tongue muscles, but it’s not an easy job. On the plus side, most kids with Down Syndrome can touch their noses with their tongues...easy peasy!

How can I help? If someone in your class at school has Down Syndrome then you can help by:

  • being friendly
  • helping when they need help. But, don't take over! It's good to be able to do things for yourself.
  • including them in your group or games, if they want to join in.
  • sticking up for them if others are bullying or being unkind.
  • helping them to learn the rules, eg. "It's my turn next then it will be yours again." Or "You have to put your hand up if you want to speak in a class lesson."
  • encouraging them to try, and praising when they do well.
  • understanding that they may be a bit 'over the top' at times when they are happy or excited. It's ok to say things like, "Whoa there, don't knock me over" or "Talk quietly please."
  • being clear that 'bad behaviour', eg. shouting, hitting, throwing things or taking things without permission is not okay from anyone especially a friend.

(From a page on the Child and Youth Health's site.)

Some video clips in which people with DS express themselves


People with DS are more limited by other people’s expectations of them than they are by their condition, so expect the world from them....and they will deliver!!

— Crea O’Dowd

You may be aware that there are children attending our school who are on the autism spectrum. Some of these children are full-time in mainstream classrooms, others are full-time in the Assisted Learning Class (ALC) in our school, and others spend some time in both the ALC and the mainstream classrooms. Here is some information that might help inform you and your child about Autism...

What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person relates to the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while people with autism share certain areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in different ways.

A short video introduction to autism

Check out this BBC Newsround Special called ‘My Autism and Me’. 13-year-old Rosie takes viewers into her world to explain what it's like to grow up with autism – she says that autism “means that my brain works a bit differently”. It is suitable for parents, kids, teachers, relatives or friends of anyone with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and lasts 14 minutes.


Make a difference

Adam Harris is the founder of AsIAm.ie, Ireland's one-stop-shop of information for those living with Autism. AsIAm works to change the public perception of Autism and to empower those in the Autism community to achieve their own personal potential and to gain positive outcomes for the entire community.

Check out Adam’s ‘Ten simple ways to really make a difference for someone with autism’. You can access is in video format here or written format here. His blog on autism can be found here.

If you’re still curious, take a look at this video from the Middletown Centre for Autism.

Did you know?

  • About 1 in 68 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Autism is a hidden disability – you can't always tell if someone has an ASD.
  • Many people with an ASD have difficulty processing everyday sensory information such as sounds, sights and smells. This is usually called having sensory integration difficulties, or sensory sensitivity.
  • There is a range of reasons why children with an ASD have difficulties with behaviour. The world can be a confusing, isolating and daunting place for the child and it is their fundamental difficulties with communication and social interaction that are often the root cause of difficult behaviour.
  • With the right help and support a person with autism can make progress and reach their potential.


(This post refers to the Christmas Bazaar 2013.)

The parents of children with special needs group wishes to thank the PTA committee and the general parent body. We are really happy to report that the funds raised specifically for the ALC (Assisted Learning Class) at the Christmas Bazaar are now being spent in the best possible way.

You may not be aware that, because of the moratorium on HSE staff, the children on the autistic spectrum attending the ALC in our school are now without the crucial services of a speech therapist and an occupational therapist. The funds raised have paid for a limited, temporary service in both disciplines to the children of the ALC. Following initial recent visits by private therapists, these therapies are now due to begin in September. While this is a short-term solution (we must continue to lobby for the government to provide these services as is their obligation), it is utterly crucial to these children that they receive these interventions at an early age - they cannot wait for the political and economic climate to change.

It is very heartening for our group to have received this support from the whole school community. Please find below an email from a parent whose child attends the ALC.
Our son is in the ALC and one of the children benefiting from the funds donated by the PTA. These funds are paying for SLT and OT, or speech and language therapy and occupational therapy to the uninitiated.

Our son has no voice. As his parents we often feel we have no voice in spite of all our shouting.

A child with autism once described himself as being like a wasp in a jar, where the other children are just outside the jar and he desperately wants to join them.

He cannot. He keeps hitting the thick glass. He cannot get out the top of the jar because there is a tight lid locked down.

Our son is in this jar, and the designated service providers, namely the HSE, insist on giving us a lid to tighten on the jar.

He receives no SLT and no OT from the HSE, despite their own assessment half our son’s lifetime ago that it is critical he receive these services.

Autism can be a lonely and isolating path for the child and their family. It is humbling to us as parents that you are there in support and as our friends on this path.

On behalf of our son a heartfelt thank you for helping ‘lift the lid’.