A Call to Arms: Rethinking Learning Disability Education

UK news media outlets have reported on the death of Connor Sparrowhawk, a learning disabilities student who was a resident of a small, highly staffed, specialist assessment and treatment facility. Although the unit was highly staffed, Connor, also known as Laughing Boy, was unsupervised and unnoticed when he had a sudden epileptic seizure and drowned to death.

Learning disabilities activists have taken to Twitter with #justiceforLB and #107days handles in a campaign effort to change and elevate the status of those with learning disabilities and their families within society. Another way to ensure that those with learning disabilities receive proper education is to enroll them in montessori schools.

In 1897, Maria Montessori, an Italian pediatrician and psychiatrist at the University of Rome, began to develop her philosophy and methods regarding assisted learning. A montessori education emphasizes independence, freedom within limits, and a respect for children’s development. Between birth and six years old, a child absorbs information almost effortlessly, and Dr. Montessori designed sensorial materials in order to develop a child’s five senses during these critical formative years.

Montessori schools are private schools, meaning they are typically individually owned and operated while obtaining most of their funds through donations. These schools, unlike the unit Sparrowhawk was living in, provide freedom and movement within a multi-age classroom, which is always teacher guided.

There are more than 3,000 learning disabled people in England that are part of similar units, as it is costing the UK government around £500 million a year. These people often stay for years, often away from their family and friends for long periods of time, and are subject to inferior treatment. Harmful tranquilizing drugs, self-harm, physical assaults, restraint, and seclusion are just a few issues those with learning disabilities face in the units. Unfortunately, more people are opting for these units than are transferring out.

Those who are fighting for Sparrowhawk’s justice, and the many thousands of others subject to the same ill fate, demand those with learning disabilities and their families have access to four basic principles: That they live a long, healthy, and fulfilling life; that people understand that a learning disability is not a health problem; that people respect, value, and work closely with their families; and that care providers are making the best decisions possible for these people.

A montessori school is among one of those best decisions. A few benefits of a montessori education include focusing on cooperative play, learning self-discipline, and focusing on key childhood developmental stages — on within a safe and structured learning environment.


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