Strategies for parents and young people to ensure successful post-school transitions.

Strategy 1: Attend information opportunities and access online information to find out more about further or higher education, employment, and support services.

Strategy 2: Partner with other families and support groups to explore choices and pathways.

Strategy 3: Begin planning for transition early in post-primary school, and seek support to create a clear Transition Plan.

Strategy 4: Build independence by teaching practical skills

Strategy 5: Help young people to identify and build a network of support

Better options for students with disabilities.

On the 22nd November post-primary students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties in Ireland are invited to the annual Better Options event.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to attend this event whether you are in 5th or 6th year.  Researching supports in further and higher education is a key part of  making decisions about transition pathways that suit your profile of strengths and interests.

This is your opportunity to meet the people who will be supporting you in college, and to ask questions relevant to your individual support needs, for example:

  • what type of academic and personal support will I receive?
  • can I request exam accommodations?
  • do you provide assistive technology?
  • is there a respite or sensory rest room?
  • do you have accessible lockers?

The list of exhibitors for this year includes:

Association for Higher Education Access and Disability
Assistive Technology Demo Stand
Blackrock College of Further Education
Blanchardstown IT
Carlow College
Cavan Institiute
Dublin Business School
Dublin City University
Dublin Institute of Technology
Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology
Dun Laoghaire Institute of Further Education
Dundalk IT
Dyslexia Association
HADD Ireland
Harper Adams University (UK)
Killester College of Further Education
Marino Institute of Education
Maynooth University
National College of Art & Design
National College of Ireland
National Learning Network
Open University
Roslyn Park
Tallaght IT
Trinity College Dublin
University College Dublin

Better Options also provide seminars for parents and students on the following topics:

DARE – How to Apply
Into Nursing
Into Teaching
Into Clubs & Societies
Into Technology
Into Freshers Year – and how to survive it
Into College with an Intellectual Disability

No need to book, just turn up 🙂
November 22nd (10:00-13:00) in the Auditorium, Block A, DCU St Patrick’s Campus

This year’s Better Options college fair for students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties will take place in the Auditorium, Block A, DCU St Patrick’s Campus on Nov 22nd 2017.


10 minutes with …




  1. Why do colleges offer dedicated Access Programmes for young people?

Fundamentally, access offices attempt to ensure that the student body within higher education is reflective of the diversity of society at large.  We are keen to ensure that students of all ages (Mature and Young Adults) achieve their full educational potential.  The circumstances of your birth which may include social and economic challenges should not dictate the limits of your educational achievement. Individuals, communities and society at large benefit greatly when students have the opportunity to fulfil their educational goals and that is why colleges offer dedicated access programmes.

  1. What is your role within TAP?

I have had the pleasure of working with students and staff in Trinity College for nearly 20 years.   My current role is that of Deputy Director of the Trinity Access Programmes, and consists of working with an enthusiastic team and in partnership with schools, businesses and communities at developing policies and practices which help to ensure that widening participation is prioritised and is a success in Trinity.

  1. Why did you choose work in this area?

Like many things in life, my career has been part accident and part design.  I initially trained as a second level teacher, and was supervised by the former Director of TAP (and fellow Mayo supporter) Deirdre Rafferty.   In 1997, she invited me to volunteer on a summer school programme which was being organised by TAP for second level students, and I couldn’t resist.  Aside from that experience, my personal history aligns with the TAP story, as I am a first generation college entrant.  Although my own parents didn’t complete primary school and have struggled with basic literacy, they instilled a fire in my belly for education.

  1. Where did you train and how long did it take?

My undergraduate education took place in the inspirational surroundings of Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts.  After a few years of working and traveling, I undertook the Higher Diploma, Education TCD.  More recently, I completed a Master’s in Education.  I also have a certificate in Equality Studies from UCD.   Thankfully, my job allows for a considerable degree of reflection, research and professional development – all of which is essential to ensure that I am doing the best job possible for students.

  1. Have you always worked with young people?

As a little girl, I loved nothing more than playing teacher.  I have always been involved with education  — primarily with ‘young’ people but also with mature students.  In my earlier years, you would have found me escorting groups of students and educators to far-flung places in the former Soviet Union.   My early days in Ireland were spent teaching in the North Inner City and Tallaght.  My time in Trinity has allowed me to design and deliver so many interesting and impactful programmes for children from ages 12 to 20.  Working with young people is a joy, and I believe that they have taught me as much as (hopefully) I have shared with them.

  1. What do you like most about your job?

I am lucky to work with a really dedicated team in Trinity – people who are creative, humorous and always willing to go the extra mile.  But, I think that we would all agree, that the best part of our job is learning our students’ stories and watching them undertake an educational journey and begin to flourish.

  1. Are you working on any projeccaw-logots at the moment?

I am working with colleagues in NCAD, IADT, UCD and Marino on a grant application.  We are also working on delivering the fourth annual national College Awareness Week campaign, which has been a huge success (  Not to mention, our orientation programme for nearly 300 incoming Freshers!

  1. What is your top tip for students starting college?

Be yourself, look after your well-being, and ask for help when you need it!

  1. How can parents help?

Parents can help by showing unconditional love and support.  A warm meal, a place conducive to study, words of encouragement, continuing to do their laundry (!) and offering a few quid for socialising all help.   Parents may also consider visiting the college/ university web-site to familiarise themselves with the range of transition programmes, student services, bursaries, etc. that are available to help students thrive while in college.

  1. Where can parents and young people find out more about access programmes?

Visit the website of the college which your son/ daughter is attending/ hoping to attend or by visiting

Does My Child Present with PDA Profile of ASD?

PDA Guidance

Introduction – This is a general guide for parents to help them establish if their child is presenting with a typical presentation of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) such as Asperger’s Syndrome or Pathological Demand Avoidant (PDA), which is a different profile of autism, seen in some individuals on the spectrum.  N.B. This guide is by no means exhaustive and there will always be exceptions to the rule.

ASD is a spectrum that is complex, overlapping and can affect individuals to varying degrees.  Therefore, it can sometimes be very difficult to differentiate between the different profiles and some children may have an overlapping profile, where features of two distinct profiles such as Asperger’s and PDA or classic autism and PDA are overlapping without either being distinct.

Please note that where a child fits on the spectrum can only be accurately and officially determined following an assessment by an experienced multi-disciplinary ASD diagnostic team. But, because awareness, understanding and…

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Getting the most out of exam revision

Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations are about to start so here are a few ideas for making the revision process a little less tedious.


Our current exam system places a significant emphasis on retention and recall of information, a significant problem for young people with memory difficulties.  Working memory is responsible for storing and processing information, and research tells us that people with poor working memory have limited resources for maintaining attention on relevant information.  This is a critical part of revising for examinations, so sitting with a text book for 1 – 2 hours is probably not going to result in well learned material.  The Pomodoro technique is a useful way of organising revision time, by switching learning activities and methods.


You can build this method into a personalised revision timetable using Excel, which incorporates multi-media and traditional study materials.  I have created these for Junior, Leaving Certificate, and college students.  There are some really excellent web tools available, for example, ready made online flashcards from Quizlet which will also generate multiple choice quizzes.

Revision timetable for Leaving Cert

Some students really benefit from having a daily schedule, and this can be extracted from your three week master revision schedule.  For example, here is a daily schedule for first year undergraduate Psychology.   Revsion schedule 8th May

If you have notes and handouts in Word format, you can also take the work out of exam revision by hearing these read aloud using the Speak Selected Text function.

Making it personal.

I wrote about the structure and purpose of the DARE scheme in Who DARES, wins  and have received many queries from students and parents about the personal statement element of the application process.  Every year this task causes feelings of apprehension and anxiety for many applicants, so I am sharing here some general advice about how to approach this, bearing in mind the completion deadline of 1st March.


The personal statement is Question 5 of the online application DARE form, that students complete within their CAO account.  As stated on page 15 of the DARE Application Guide, it provides students with an opportunity to describe in more detail, the impact of disability in the classroom, the school environment, and in completion of academic tasks. It is an important piece of supplementary information for Disability Services (DS) in colleges, universities, and Institutes of Technology.  After accepting a CAO offer, the DS contacts the student to organise a Needs Assessment meeting, at which both parties discuss and agree upon the most appropriate supports and reasonable accommodations.  As the number of students with a disability registering in college may be as many as 200 (depending upon the size of the institution), it is extremely useful for DS staff to have prior knowledge about the strengths, challenges and needs of each student.

Section B Educational Impact Form must be completed by the school, and on page 2, the student must respond to the following question:“Please ask the applicant: Has your educational experience been affected by your disability/condition in any of the following ways? Record their response to each of the following:

  1. I needed and received supports in school or exam accommodations.
  2. My school or class attendance has been disrupted.
  3. It has impacted on my overall experience of school.
  4. It has impacted on my school exam results and learning.
  5. I have experienced other educational impact not listed above.
  6. I have a Specific Learning Difficulty and my literacy and/or numeracy abilities have been impacted on.”

It is very important for students to think about and discuss their response to this question with parents, guardians or carers, before they meet with a member of school staff to complete the form. To meet DARE eligibility requirements, students with a Specific Learning Difficulty must meet Indicator 6 plus one other indicator. All other applicants must meet any combination of two indicators from Indicators 1 to 5.

Therefore, the personal statement should match the factors that the student indicated as having had an impact on their education. Students can include comments about any aspect of school that they have found challenging, difficult, or obstructive.  This might include their performance in tests and exams, access to books and other materials or resources, access to teaching and instruction, issues with memory or concentration, the effect of any mental health condition, problems with time management and organisation, difficulties with attending school, supports received such as resource hours, technology, or help from an SNA.

It is not necessary to provide an essay type statement, it is acceptable to write in bullet points; the important thing is to communicate exactly how disability has impacted on the experience of secondary education. So a personal statement based on Impact Indicators might look something like the following example.

Patrick is a young person with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyspraxia, and depression.  Patrick has used a laptop in the classroom since 2nd year, and uses a computer in examinations (Impact Indicator 1).  Patrick has regular outpatient appointments for support with social skills, and feelings of social isolation (Impact Indicator 2). Patrick also has Sensory Processing Disorder which means that he finds the physical environment very challenging, being particularly sensitive to auditory stimuli (Impact Indicator 3).

ASD has had an impact on my education, in very particular ways.  Because my handwriting is both slow and at times illegible, this affected my school exam results and has also meant that I struggled to take notes in class.  I was able to use a computer in the Junior and Leaving Cert which helped me to get down everything that I needed to say in a way that teachers and the examiner could understand. My school attendance has not been great as I had to attend appointments with my psychiatrist during school hours, and there have been times when depression prevented me from leaving the house.  I think it has impacted on my overall experience of school, because I find social situations extremely challenging, making it difficult to fit in and to make friends, and this has made me feel very unhappy at times.  Some smells and sounds cause me distress, and this is a problem if there are large numbers of people.  This can affect my concentration in lessons.  I become overwhelmed and get very tired, meaning that sometimes homework is impossible to complete at the end of the school day.

Barbara was diagnosed with a Specific Learning Difficulty (Dyslexia) in primary school, affecting spelling and written expression to a significant degree (Impact Indicator 6).  Barbara’s psycho-educational assessment also indicates that her overall ability lies within the above average range, but this not reflected in her school results (Impact Indicator 4).  She has received regular learning support in post-primary school, for help with essay writing and study skills (Impact Indicator 1).

  1. I have always had help in school from the resource teacher to help me with organising information, and writing essays.  She taught me how to use mind maps to learn and remember material.

  2. My Dyslexia report says that I have a slow processing speed and working memory.  It takes me a long time to get my thoughts down in writing.  I just cannot keep up with taking notes in class, I just don’t write fast enough.

  3. In general, I don’t think that my performance in exams reflects my ability.  I know I’m not stupid but I just don’t get the marks.

  4. It takes my brain a long time to retrieve information, so I end up writing far less than everyone else, and running out of time before I have answered all of the questions.

  5. Having to study for so many subjects is hard for me, it takes such a long time to do homework.

Other examples are provided on page 14 of the DARE 2015 Application Guide.

These examples should help students to understand how the personal statement connects to communicating educational disadvantage.  It is so important that students take this opportunity to tell their story.


Including everyone in social communication.

I dropped in to the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities last week, to listen to a presentation by Pablo Rodruigez Herrero, a visiting academic from the University of Madrid.  The topic of his talk was the Promentor UAM-PRODIS project, a university programme for people with intellectual disabilities.  Promentor follows in the footsteps of other international programmes which provide opportunities for experiencing university life, such as Think College (USA), Up the Hill Project (Australia), and On Campus (Canada) – which has been running since 1987, and was replicated in Finalnd (Kampus) until 2000.  Instead, I want to mention some interesting technologies that Pablo introduced during his talk.

Able to Include is an EU funded project based in the University of Leuven.  Their ultimate goal is to produce an open source Software Developer Kit that will encourage the introduction of an accessibility layer for people with Intellectual Disabilities, in any software development environment.


They are working on some very interesting apps which focus on the most important areas that a person needs to live independently: to socialize in the context of the web 2.0, to travel independently, and to be able to work.  These include apps which use text to pictures, simplified text, and text to speech and apply these to email (Kolumba), social networking (Social Network App), and face to face communication (PictoChat).picto-text-and-text-to-speech

These are still in development and demo versions only are available for the moment, but if you have a budding developer / coder in your house, the code and documentation are available from their GitHub account.

The Prodis Foundation have also developed a series of six booklets to support young people in living independently.  Currently these are only available in Spanish, although they plan to develop English language versions.  These are free to download by opening the iBooks app on your phone, selecting the search option, and typing ‘fondacion prodis’ into the search bar.


img_2194                        img_2195


In the meantime, Rob Laffan is an app developer from Ireland who has devised TippyTalk, an augmentative and alternative communication aide (AAC) that he designed to support his daughter who is non-verbal, and has a diagnosis of autism.



TippyTalk allows you to customize the app with a personalized image bank that has meaning for your child or young person, and to translate these into personalized text messages, which are then sent to the phone or tablet of a family member or a carer.  The app is available to download for both Android and iPhone, and even better, you can access a free 30 day trial of the full version.  You can find out more about Rob and Sadie’s story from their website.