Archive for June, 2014


A man learns a lot about himself by sitting on a train or a bus. If you have ever been on a train or bus in Ireland and put up with the assorted nutters that congregate on roads of tar or iron well, you have my sympathies. For me this year has been about those physical journeys but like any journey there is also the mental roads that we must traverse. I embarked on a diploma, yes I am a lunatic because I promised myself I would avoid academia for at least ten years (I managed four). However, the subject matter of said diploma was one close to my heart namely: autism. Look what can I say about autism that you cannot find by visiting a website and reading up on the condition? Well I suppose I could tell you to see the person and not the condition. As they say to us teachers: when you have taught one child with autism you have taught one child with autism. All of this is true but at the heart of it, for me at least, I enjoy teaching, working and interacting with autistic folk. They really do teach me as much as I teach them. People on the spectrum often have a wonderful sense of humour and a way of seeing the truth, which often catches the ‘neurotypical’ off guard. We have so many social rules and niceties that we find it difficult to cope with those that cannot read our secret language and of we are being honest the vast majority of us struggle with accepting difference. We are so set in our routines, so bound to our little rituals that when we come face to face with the ‘other’ we retreat back to those norms and cling to them for dear life.

The diploma was both heavy and interesting in equal measure. I looked at topics such as working with non-verbal children, relationships and sexuality, methodologies for accessing the curriculum, co-occurring needs, transitions, self-advocacy, applied behaviour analysis and many more beside. I bounced off Cork, Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Mayo, Laois, Waterford, Donegal and Westmeath all the while staying in rooms of varying quality (some with walls as thin as tissue and bed linen to match). I travelled by rail, tram, car, bus and foot in rain,hail and snow but I got there in the end. My favourite course was one run out of North Carolina called TEACCH (if you have even a passing interest in the area check them out). As with most things in life it was the friends I made along the way that made it all the worthwhile. I met people like me, ones that worried whether or not they were teaching the right things, saying the right words or passing on the necessary skills to the students under their care. We stressed over essays, laughed over school stories and pulled our hair out with the frustration of it all. It is this that defines our education, it is this lived experience that matters not the pieces of paper with grades.

In the end education must be about people and the sharing of ideas and knowledge. My final thoughts go to the students especially those that I have had the honour to teach. They have shown me that we cannot define, contain and restrain personalities under umbrella terms. They remind me of my humanity. My country has a dark past and an abysmal record with the manner in which it treats (and I stress treats for this is a not just a thing of the past) children. Maybe one day this little old sod will take responsibility for those mistakes and break the hard, rock like edifice of routine thar binds it so, until that day all we can do is educate ourselves in that hardest of disciplines, namely, compassion. The journey, whilst at times difficult, is the greatest teacher of all.