Thursday, 8 October 2009

Build a school, build your own dreams

In Northern Ireland, the hope of attaining a ‘good’ education in a ‘good’ school (whatever that is) can depend on a number of things. For any child, some of the obstacles to attaining a good education include whether or not your child sat the 11 Plus, what postal code you live in, whether a child’s parents value education and are proactive about it and of course the academic ability and/or motivation of the child.

In terms of the 11 Plus exams, many parents are well aware that for their children who did not sit the exam that their child sat ‘in the back’ so to speak while the 11 Plus pupils got all the attention.

Separate curriculums, even separate classes are formed between the ‘smart ones’ and the others. Don’t believe me? Ask your son or daughter who did not sit the exam, what their schoolwork consisted of, just prior to and following exam time. Were they colouring in a lot of maps and being kept busy with ‘artwork’ while their peers were busy cramming in concepts, facts and figures with the full attention of all the teachers?

We all know there is a two track system in Northern Ireland best exemplified by the grammar schools. Regardless of the 11 Plus being phased out, it has already done its damage.

For our children on the spectrum the obstacles set against them include all the above and so much more. Large class size, over stimulating environments, curriculums that have not been modified, teachers and classroom assistants who have not been highly trained, teachers who can’t cope, the list goes on and on. Put our children in a class of 28 and most of the child's day could well be spent having teacher and aide calming down his overworked nervous system.

Northern Ireland has a number of empty schools, schools that could be used to provide kids with autism a more specialised education.

If parents want schools for their children, schools that will specialise and will honour the opportunity to help our children, then parents must start demanding them. Why should we as parents accept what is on offer? The product is well past it’s sell by date and is actually starting to mould.

Have parents in Northern Ireland succumbed to the system just like the government and school boards hoped they would? Since when do we have to accept anything? Instead of governments telling us what to do, it is they who should and must listen to us, not the other way round. I see and hear parents complaining all the time, each carrying out their own personal battle with the authorities and schools, each in isolation, each signifying nothing in the bigger picture except isolated bouts of disruption. Even if a parent launches an appeal and tribunal regarding the education of their child, unless it's going to create a precedent in law the impact of such is not felt in the wider community.

All of these isolated voices of parents which are battling the system get lost and rarely come together. Despite the fact that there are more than 10 charities which offer services and/or advice regarding autism in the North, the voices of parents continue to make very little impact. Parents are separated, corralled and effectively silenced by the fact they are not coming together as one.

Every parent, without a doubt has some amazing stories to tell about their child. Are teachers and the Department of Education afraid of what our children might achieve? It would set a very dangerous precedent if our children started 'achieving' beyond the expectations of others. There would be no going back to suppressing and repressing our children and their parents if that Pandora's Box were to open. The Department of Education, I think, is terrified of providing opportunities for our children to grow because the flood gates would open to possibilities and all of that costs dearly. Best to keep parents and their children in a holding pattern. It starts with the negative attitudes of the diagnosing paediatrician and it ends with your child still at home at the age of 25.

I ask all of you who are parents to take one hour and really think about what kind of educational environment you really want for your child. Try to exclude the niggling comments from your child's teacher that he is 'happy' (he might not be happy at the age of 18 when he hasn't got the skills to get a job or a girlfriend) Talk to your fellow parents and compare notes about what you really want for your child. Then ask yourself 'are these things achievable?'

We can change the future for our children. 'Tick tock, tick tock....what are we waiting for? Are you afraid someone might say no?

Friday, 2 October 2009

SHAM - Autism Bill - Everybody Now Knows!

2 October 2009

Top doctor's autism bill concerns

NI's chief medical officer has said he has "significant concerns" about proposed autism legislation.

Dr Michael McBride said it could lead to discrimination against those with similar disabilities who have not been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum.
He warned the assembly's health committee that parents could seek an autism diagnosis to access facilities.

Arlene Cassidy of the charity Autism NI said she was "astounded" by Dr McBride's comments.
"I find the chief medical officer ill informed about the purpose of the Autism Bill," she told BBC Radio Ulster.

"This is a good thing, it is about building upon the good work of the departments of health and education - this bill is about joining up government."

Dr McBride said he had a number of major concerns about the Autism Bill (NI).
“ Legislation would encourage more strategic planning regionally across all departments ” Arlene Cassidy Autism NI

He said he was worried about the "substantive administrative costs that would be incurred and the lack of clarity over how the legislation could be put into operation, given our current equality legislation".

"I believe this legislation could discriminate against individuals who could have a similar range of disabilities such as speech, language and communication problems but are not on the autism spectrum," he added.

His comments were backed by director of mental health Dr Maura Briscoe, who warned the committee the bill could create a hierarchy of disability and create labelling "not to the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland".

An action plan to improve services was introduced earlier this year, but Ms Cassidy said legislation was necessary to ensure a multi-agency approach.
"The autism action plan is a positive step forward but it is for the Department of Health - autism is a holistic problem, it is a lifelong problem and involves other government departments," she said.

"People involved in the action plan have found they haven't got co-operation from other departments, so legislation would encourage more strategic planning regionally across all departments."

One of the bill's supporters, SDLP assembly member Dominic Bradley, told the BBC he remained confident the bill would eventually be passed despite the objections of Dr McBride and Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.

"I don't think it's the end of the road - we have the support of the majority of political parties and indeed we did have the support of the Ulster Unionist Party until recently," he said.
Mr Bradley said cross-departmental planning would save money by removing "duplication of effort".

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Maginness, who was involved in drawing up the autism action plan, said introducing legislation would be costly and time-wasting.

"Based on the needs of parents, carers and users rather than the demands of a voluntary group or politicians, we've got a lead autism director in each trust, a project team and will soon be able to assess every two-year-old child in Northern Ireland," he said.

listen live on BBC IPlayer here: (fast forward to 1 hr and 42 minutes for this particular 9 minute clip)

Story from BBC NEWS: 2009/10/02 08:50:48 GMT© BBC MMIX

**Let's remember Arlene Cassidy's references to 'looking on the bright side', following the Middletown Centre for Autism fallout in May this year.

In this clip from 18 May 2009,( Ms Cassidy was asked her opinion over the Middletown debacle. She responded, "maybe this provides us all with an opportunity...I am a great believer in looking for the silver lining and maybe some of the funding diverted to Middletown can be used otherwise."

Yes Ms Cassidy, I agree with you on that one. With regard to the Autism Bill and the exorbitant amount of money it would waste, your previous comments regarding 'diversion' of monies are applicable here too. Let's 'divert' money for this ridiculous bill, to those who need it most, namely our children. Seriously, what has changed for our children in the past 20 years, actually the same 20 years that AutismNI/AutismUlster has been in existence? How many ASD specific schools with trained teachers would the Autism Bill buy? How many youth/adult employment transition schemes would it fund? The comparison of Northern Ireland to the Republic or to England is dire in terms of what is available for our children. We need real early intervention, not half hazard 'attempts'. We need a complete overhaul of the belief systems of those who work with our kids in this province. Our children need so much - legislation guarantees nothing - in fact it might even make things worse by creating a restrictive perimeter around what can/cannot be done.

Autism in Northern Ireland seems to be more about wasting money than anything else. 7 million pounds has already disappeared down the Middletown rabbit hole, much of it having gone into the pockets of Directors.

The fact our 'legislators' allowed 7 million pounds to be wasted, that it was done 'legally' is not very encouraging. What we could have done with that money!!

Let's not make the same mistake again. The Autism Bill is a fruitless, redundant and ultimately damaging idea and I am so thankful that some people in Northern Ireland are seeing sense and that others are finally having their voice heard over the din of others' egos and career ambitions.

IRIS ROBINSON tells us like it is?

Hello dear readers. We are at a major crossroads regarding the future of our children and all individuals who have an autistic spectrum condition who live in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday (1 October 2009) in Stormont, a meeting took place of the Health, Social Services & Public Safety Committee. At 2.00pm a Departmental Briefing on Proposals for the Autism Legislation began. If any of you were party to the proceedings you would be reeling with shock. Why? Kieran McShane, parent and ASD Strategy member suffered a verbal outburst from Iris Robinson, MP, DUP in a discussion about the taking forward of the proposed Autism Bill.

Kieran McShane: "I am a parent and carer and a member of the Autism Strategy. Nothing in this bill is for me. "

Iris Robinson: "You may be a parent but I am an elected representative!"

For those of you out of the loop, there is much afoot regarding autism and politics at the moment and if you have not already done so, you will be very interested in seeing this: . Go to page 38 to see a diagram of how parents are going to be key to the future decision making regarding our children.

I personally, am appalled and highly insulted that Iris Robinson DUP appears to hold the view of her friend Ms Arlene Cassidy CEO AutismNI/AutismUlster higher than the views of parents, carers and service users.

I personally cannot equate Ms Robinson's comments yesterday to be based on anything else than what she is being fed by AutismNI/AutismUlster. Who wants this autism bill except AutismNI/Autism Ulster? We have laws here regarding all disabilities and it is my opinion that fear is rising in the hearts of certain organisations both statutory and voluntary that parents are going to be furnished with the power, authority and mandate to shape the future for their own children. Iris Robinson in my view, now has the responsibility to prove to her electorate who she is representing.

If you are a parent, a carer, or an individual with an ASD and you live in Iris' riding,she desperately needs to be re-educated by you.

Does Iris Robinson represent ALL of her constituents who have varying 'disabilities' or does she represent only those with ASD I wonder. Will she fight for legislation for those with cerebral palsy, down syndrome, the blind, and the physically disabled, under section 75? Is she as 'well-acquainted' with the leadership of these groups as she is with Arlene Cassidy? Iris seems to have a lot of time for 'autism' and AutismNI/AutismUlster. I suggest to other 'disability' groups to get cracking and bend her ear equally.

Nothing escapes the attention of parents where politics is concerned. It's not about politics - it's about our children and we are watching, watching very closely.

So many questions. Will the rest of Northern Ireland's carers (185,000) be meted the same treatment as Iris Robinson projected onto Mr McShane yesterday just because she is a political representative? I would not like to think so.

If you would like a dvd copy of the DHSSPS proceedings from yesterday for your own records, you can order your own copy for free by emailing: Sound& In the body of your email advise the proceedings, and the date they occurred. Don't take it from me, watch what is going on for your own eyes.