Our kids with learning difficulties in Ireland

As a mother of 26 years now, I am astonished how many families are effected by children with learning difficulties. The most common one or the one we are more familiar with being Dyslexia. I also have the ongoing experience of sourcing information and assessments and help for my children throughout the years. I have three children, Anthony aged 26, Sarah, 20 and Yasmin 11 and both the girls have a severe Dyslexia while Anthony was border line. As he had a maths skill, the education system wasn’t too worried about his literacy skills. Everybody in the education system loves a guy who can do maths!
From babies, you can tell the if your child is going to be a fast learner or a slow learner. Anthony walked by one year, talked clearly at 2 and a half years and could manage tasks by himself at a young age with just his parents observing close by.
Sarah was a baby for a long time, in fact, I remember my family saying I babied her too much, but that wasn’t my recollection. She was a cute baby, a lovable toddler and of course I adored her, but Sarah didn’t walk till 19 months and her speech was quite poor when she started school at age 4 years and 1 month, (the poor pet). She didn’t seem to hear me nor her lovely teacher Miss Cummins from St Mary Help of Christians in Dublin and on the advise of her teacher, I had Sarah assessed by an education psychologist. Sarah didn’t have a hearing problem but the assessment found that Sarah had a poor maturity and she also went on to being diagnosed with Dyslexia.
 Sixteen years ago, I didn’t know what poor maturity meant in educational terms, so Sarah continued on her social struggle in school coupled with her learning difficulty. Today I know that putting a child into the school system when they have the mind of a toddler can be detrimental to their personal growth. Although educationally, I got all the help I needed for Sarah and she came on really well with her education, I saw her social struggles throughout the school system and through the added challenges of puberty we eventually needed to go to a child psychiatrist. Not dismissing my own difficulties with depression effecting the family, I have also learned that forcing a child to perform in an environment that she is emotionally not able for leads them to have low self esteem and insecure problems, leading to mild or moderate depression.
When Yasmin came along, she was very similar to Sarah in not walking till 20 months, with the same speech difficulty, but this time around on Yasmin’s early assessment at age 5, it was pointed out to me clearly that Yasmin had no comprehension of tasks or commands. This time I knew what this meant and that Yasmin was not ready for the school environment so I kept her in montessori school till age 6. I felt guilty for sending my other two kids to school at such an early age.
I’m much more in tune with Yasmin’s learning difficulties, maybe because I was pointed in the right direction from Louise McDonagh head of the speech and language department in Dunboyne, to get the right assessments. Yasmin went on to be diagnosed with lots of difficulties Dr Sinead Hearty in Drogheda confirmed Emir Crowley’s diagnosis of Dyspraxia (muscular difficulty). When the doctor casually flung the words ‘Delayed mental development’ over Yasmin’s five year old head. Yasmin may not have known what that meant, but I did and I was scared for Yasmin. She went on to be diagnosed with Dyslexia (literacy difficulty) Dyscalculia (numbers difficulty) Severe comprehension disorder (didn’t understand expression of language) Sensory difficulties (Everything hurt her, severe motion difficulty) and ADHD behaviour (impulsive and hyper active, can’t sit still). But I took the bull by the horns and went on the slow thorough road of educating Yasmin. And it goes without saying that I am so proud of her work ethic as she tries so hard.
Yasmin is now 11 years of age and has started 4th class. Her class mates would be a year and half younger than her and Yasmin’s ability level would be that of an eight year old.
Each new term takes Yasmin a bit of adjusting into. The new level of work is hard for her. And although Yasmin has permanent resource for 30 minutes each day, if the schools resources are stretched, our school system will discard the children who seem to be managing.
Being a parent of a beautiful child with learning difficulties had me awake this morning at 5am. As Yasmin received 2 hours of homework last night that should have been tackled by the resource room. Instead, the teacher is now sending it home to the parent, hoping that the parent can take the place of resource. I certainly don’t mind helping my daughter with home work or in fact being her teacher at home, I enjoy being able to help, but Yasmin is still struggling with the same difficulties that got her resource in the first place and needs that professional help outside the home. It’s all very well for me now, with just one child at home that I can dedicate my time to and I’m lucky enough to be a stay at home mum, but what about all the other parents with other young children and jobs too? I can only just imagine their struggles and stress levels each day as they try to get their child with learning difficulties to school. Because even if you know nothing about learning difficulties, if your child is struggling to go to school each morning, there’s a reason. They either find learning difficult, social integration difficult or they are being bullied. Listen to your child’s body language.
Jean xxx

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