History of Special Needs Provision in Ireland Essay

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The history of education for children with special needs in Ireland has been one of neglect and exclusion until there was a change in attitudes and policies. The government had no need for policies regarding education and care of children with additional needs because they were carried out by religious orders. Many children were sent away to hospitals, homes and even asylums. They were hidden away from society. There were three stages in relation to the education and care of children with additional needs.

Era of Neglect and Denial

The era of neglect and denial was when the government thought children with special needs didnt need to be educated and were seen as a medical problem. The Medical Model of Disability thought that children with special needs were abnormal. The problem was seen to be with the person with special needs and this model focuses on the causes of the disability and would look for cures rather than accept the person. The medical model of disability views disability as a problem that belongs to the disabled individual. It is not seen as an issue to concern anyone other than the individual (www.2.le.ac.uk, Assessed 07 March 2014).

Era of Special Schools

The era of special schools was when a number of religious orders set up schools for children with special needs. The care and education was entirely up to the religious orders and the children would often board here rather than stay at home with their families. These schools were later recognised by the state. The government now believed children with special needs needed to be educated but not with normal children. They believed that the children would interfere with the education of the other children and therefore could not be educated in the same schools.

Era of Integration and Inclusion

The era of integration and inclusion began when the government introduced policies on education for children with special needs. They introduced these because of the decline in religion and religious orders. The state took over the care and education of children with additional needs. There was a demand for these children to be educated in schools alongside children who did not
have special educational needs. This did happen but the children with special needs were taught in separate classrooms away from the other children. They were been educated but still not included. There are over 140 special schools in Ireland to date. These schools are designed for children who cannot be educated in mainstream schools. Some children may go to these schools for a period of time and then move into mainstream schools. Children with special needs are entitled to a free education until they reach eighteen years of age. They are entitled to help and support from resource teachers or special need assistants if the need it and to be educated in the same environment as every other child and to be treated equally.

Legislation and Policies

The Education Act 1998

The Education Act 1998 was the first piece of legislation that outlined the rights regarding education. This act is a general one but it provided the first legal definition of disability, the first legal definition of special educational needs and it defined what support services are. It outlines the roles and responsibilities of teachers, Board of Management, the Inspector and the Minister for Education. The Education Act 1998 says that all children including children with special needs are entitled to free education. Parents have the right to send their children to a school of their choice. All schools must respect beliefs, languages and traditions of all children. Schools have to have a plan in place to deal with any obstacles that may affect the education or welfare of a child with additional needs. All children have the right to be treated equally and should be included in all aspects of education despite their ability or disability. This was the first piece of legislation passed since the foundation of the state that directly outlined the governments rights and legal obligations regarding education (Assisting Children with Special Needs, Assessed 08 March 2014: 10).

The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 This Act was passed to ensure that all people with special educational needs can be educated in an inclusive environment where this is possible. They have the same rights to education as a person who does not have special educational needs. They have the right to the equipment they need in order to participate and continue with their education. The Board of Management needs to provide information to the parents and others relating to the education of the child. They need to ensure the progress of the child is monitored and reviewed regularly. To review the resources that are needed to help and provide education to children with special needs. They need to ensure that the needs of the child are being met and that a plan is put in place specifically for each child. This Act was passed in June, 2004. The Act makes provision for the education of people with special educational needs, to provide that education wherever possible, in an inclusive environment with those who do not have such needs (www.asti.ie, Accessed 10 March 2014)

Special Needs Conditions

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a common behavioural disorder that affects school age children and is more common in boys. Signs and Symptoms
There are three major symptoms of ADHD inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Some signs of ADHD are been easily distracted, switching from one activity to another frequently and talking excessively.


The causes of ADHD are not known. There are a number of factors that may be linked to ADHD such as genetics, diet and family environments. Diagnosis The diagnosis should only be made if the problem has been assessed for more than six months and has happened in two or more places. This is because there are other conditions which are very similar to ADHD that have to be ruled out. Attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) is a disorder that appears in early childhood. You may know it by the name attention deficit disorder, or ADD. ADD/ADHD makes it difficult for people to inhibit their spontaneous response response that can involve everything to speech to attentiveness (www.helpguide.org, Accessed 09 March 2014).

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy occurs when the part of the brain that controls muscle tone and movement is damaged. The condition can result in someone just been clumsy or it can be more severe where the person cannot walk or move any part of their body.

Signs and Symptoms

Cerebral palsy may have the following signs and symptoms, lack of movement, difficulty walking, delays in speech development and trouble with swallowing.


There are no exact causes for cerebral palsy but it may be caused by brain damage before or during a childs birth.


A diagnosis for cerebral palsy will only be made after a child has been assessed and tests carried out. The tests will focus on the childs movements and their muscle tone. Diagnosis for cerebral palsy can take a long time. Cerebral palsy is a term used to refer to a group of complicated conditions that affect movement and posture because of damage to or failure in the development of the part of the brain that controls movement (www.sess.ie, Accessed 10 March 2014).


Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the brain from functioning properly. Autism affects the way a person communicates and how they relate to other people.

Signs and Symptoms

Some signs and symptoms of autism are if a child does not respond to their name by the age of twelve months, have no words by sixteen months and does not point at objects to show interest by fourteen months. The child will avoid eye contact and will like to play alone frequently.


The exact cause of autism is unknown. Abnormalities in the brain, genetics and environmental toxins may be causes but this have not been proven.


A screening test to diagnoise autism must be based on the observation of communication, behaviour and development and compare them to children in the same age group. Autism is a neurological condition in which a child is unable to relate to people and situations. It first emerges in early childhood, when the child is first developing social and interpersonal skills. It is a rare condition affecting approximately five people out of every 10,000 (www.irishhealth.com, Accessed 11 March 2014).


Dyslexia is a learning disorder which makes reading, writing and spelling more difficult. It is the most common learning difficulty among children.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common sign of dyslexia is getting letters and words jumbled up. Lack of self-esteem, bad behaviour and lack of interest in school related activities are symptoms of having dyslexia.


There is no real evidence to suggest what causes dyslexia but it may be caused by an impairment in the brain or it may be inherited.


Tests will be done on a child that is suspected of having dyslexia and will focus on how the child processes information, their language abilities and word recognition. There was a time in Ireland when dyslexia was the disorder that dare not speak his name. The Dyslexia Association of Ireland. (DAI), established 40 years ago this year, had to change its name in the 1980s to the Association of Children and Adults with Learning Difficulties, so it would be taken seriously (www.irishtimes.com, Accessed 11 March 2014).

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

FASD is mental and physical condition that results from alcohol exposure during pregnancy.

Signs and Symptoms

Some of the signs and symptoms of FASD may include having a small head, deformities of limbs, heart defects and vision or hearing difficulties.


The causes of FASD is when a mother drinks alcohol excessively during her pregnancy. Alcohol interferes with the oxygen getting to the developing brain.


FASD can only be diagnosed after a child is born. Doctors will access motor skills, facial features and heart problems.

Support Services

HADD Ireland is a support group for people affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They offer a wide variety of services including courses for young people, courses for parents and support groups. In these courses they build skills, promote self-awareness and encourage problem solving. In the support groups they offer talks and workshops for parents that provide information and advice on ADHD. Cerebral Palsy Alliance is a support group that provides support and assistance for parents and carers of people who suffer from cerebral palsy. Each service is in place to help improve the quality of life and participation in everyday life. The services they provide include therapy and health services, counselling and respite care. They offer early intervention services and mentoring programmes for teenagers Irish Autism Action is an organisation that was formed to help sufferers of autism and their families. They offer a range of services including early detection programmes, education support, counselling, and home based support.

They also have a helpline that offers confidential information and support for people with autism. They provide information and advice to families upon a diagnosis been made. Dyslexia Association of Ireland (DAI) is a membership based organisation that educates people about dyslexia. They offer appropriate and effective support services for children and adults dealing with dyslexia. The services they provide are information services through phone, website or text, assessment services, specialist tuition for children through workshops or one on one tuition, training and education for parents, teachers and others. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Ireland is a support group that was set up by a group of carers who have had contact with children who suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). They provide information to families, carers and individuals on any disability associated with FASD. Alcohol Awareness Week 2014 is one way in which they provide information and promote awareness about FASD.

University of Leicester: The social and medical model of disability (Online), available: http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ssds/accessability/staff/accessabilitytutors/information-for-accessability-tutors/the-social-and-medical-model-of-disability

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