My name is Jean Spain, I have just joined the Editorial Board of Frontline—and having read the magazine since it began I was very honoured to be asked to join such a dedicated group of people. I am a parent of a person with an intellectual disability and like many parents have had to fight for any services my daughter Deirdre required from the very beginning. I am presently a Director of Inclusion Ireland, having had the very great honour to be President of namhi (now Inclusion Ireland) in 2002-2004.
I recall going to my first parent-teacher meeting at the special school where I had at last got a place for Deirdre. We were asked if anyone would volunteer to help out and quick as a flash my husband put up his hand and said ‘Jean will help!’ So here I am, over twenty years later, still hoping to make a difference for people like my daughter.
Deirdre is thirty years old now. She attends St Michael House Supported Employment Training Centre at Santry Hall in Dublin. For the last five years she has had a job in Jury’s Inn in Christchurch. She is in the Special Olympics Jets Swimming Club. She is involved in the Union on the Hill Self- Advocacy Group and last year she finished the Citizenship and Advocacy Course in UCD.
How did I come to be writing this column? Well, when I was filling in the survey for Frontline (I hope you all filled it in too) I mentioned that over the last few issues of the magazine I had missed a parent’s column or at least more parents’ input. We now have a self-advocates page that I think is great. (My daughter looks forward to these pages and finds them easy to read— and, more to the point, she has written a report of last year’s Europe in Action Conference in Prague.) I am getting sidetracked here, but it’s funny how proud you are of anything out of the ordinary that your person with a disability achieves! My other daughter Tara— with just a hint of sibling rivalry—tells me I am like that all the time.
Anyway, at the last Editorial Board meeting, somebody mentioned that they missed a personal column-page. I agreed, and Kathy O’Grady, this issue’s guest editor, nailed me on the spot! Anyway I am honoured to follow the stories of Mary McEvoy and Mary Kate, Máiríde Woods and Aoife, and the knowledge and advice Máiríde gave us all.
Special Olympics memories
By the time this issue comes to print the Special Olympics National Games will have been held in Belfast. Unfortunately Deirdre’s name was not drawn for these games. She was disappointed, as I am sure many other Special Olympians were, but she will be there to cheer her friends on, and I’ll be there too. My most enjoyable memories have been Deirdre’s Special Olympics competitions. She has represented Leinster in the National swimming competitions, and it is a joy to see her swim. She changes when she is in the water in a way that’s hard to describe—but it’s wonderful! Deirdre joined the Special Olympics when she attended the Daughters of Charity Navan Road Training Centre.
She was entered in two athletics events for the Dublin regional finals. When it was time for the long jump, the contestants seemed to have forgotten all their training. All of us parents on the sideline were trying to show how they should jump. Then we remembered that old schooldays expression: ‘take a giant step’. So that’s what we told the children, and all of a sudden we had a competition! Nobody cared who won as we were all laughing so much. Next Deirdre was in the 100mtrs. Her coach asked me to stand at the finish line to catch the athletes as they finished the race. Deirdre started all right, but in her enthusiasm she crossed out of her lane and knocked down another little runner. Deirdre stopped to help her up, made sure she was alright, said sorry, and then went on to win the race in the wrong lane. All we could do was laugh when she asked why she had been disqualified. She didn’t see the funny side at all—so after that she took up swimming. Maybe that was the right choice, because she enjoys swimming so much. Her Jets Swimming Club has classes in Trinity Pool in Donaghmede every Sunday. The fun continues at the swimming competitions, but I’ll save some of those stories for another time.
As you can see, I am very proud of Deirdre and what she has achieved; she has a way of saying what she thinks—no holds barred, and comes straight to the point. This can be very embarrassing—but wonderful and amusing at the same time. She makes you think about issues in a different way. I am sure many other parents feel that you lose your identity when you have a special person in your family. But, you know, at this stage I don’t mind being known as ‘Deirdre Spain’s mother’.