The heavy criticism Ben Lowry experienced for his comment on an audit office report into special needs (The hysterical response to my tweet shows how Northern Ireland could become ungovernable, October 3) suggests that this is a topic that is not allowed to be discussed.
As a teacher in Canada (I am from Belfast originally) and a parent of a child with autism, I know it’s a tricky subject. If you’re a parent with a special needs kid (how do we define it?) and you’re waiting for additional assistance for your child, there’s never enough money being spent.
I wanted to get one of my younger children assessed so I asked for tests to be done by the district psychologist but the waiting list is so long. I just paid a lot of money for private testing. If the result comes back with a diagnosis we’ll get special intervention services at school. So I could be in the “we must spend more” camp. But I also wonder how much of the explosion in special needs diagnoses is due to incredible changes in society:
• An education system geared towards sensibilities of girls (sit still, be obedient etc) and boys are not adapting;
• The teaching of dull subjects from dated 1990s text books competing for attention with ipads and apps;
• Low discipline due to ‘best-friend’ parenting and parents siding with their kids not teachers;
• Low discipline because kids know teachers cannot impose a detention or other old-school discipline.
• Parents who routinely give their kids sweets, cokes etc. No longer a treat. Addled brains;
• Kids on the internet until all hours and not getting enough sleep;
The answer is a change to all of the above, plus add in the cultural change within education of over diagnosis and labelling. I do not know if £1.3bn spent on special needs in Northern Ireland over five years is too much or too little. But measuring outcomes and accountability can never be a bad thing.
Screaming at the messenger doesn’t help a healthy debate but it is par for the course in our polarised society.
Keith Montgomery, Burnaby, Canada
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