Rowan (not his real name) came to Camphill School Aberdeen, an independent day and residential school, a few years ago.
His family was close to breaking point. Rowan was ‘attending’ his local school but was more ‘excluded’ than ‘included’. He was socially isolated having no friends at school or in his local community. In short the family were in crisis.
As a last resort and after much pressure from his family, the Social Work Department referred him to Camphill as a weekly boarder.
The transformation has been unbelievable, as his key worker explains:
“He came to us socially isolated, insecure, with no confidence and with very low self esteem. Now he is the centre of our house community. He has a circle of friends both in school and in the community to whom he relates. He has a girl friend. He participates in a wide variety of activities and is thriving. His self confidence knows no bounds. Last term at our open stage night, he ‘played guitar’ and sung a duet with one of our co-workers. Camphill House, Milltimber, where it all began 70 years ago. Youngsters like Rowan show the benefits for today’s generation.
"His programme is set up so he succeeds. It is a ‘strength based’ programme building on what he can do. His circle of friends includes all types, those with physical disabilities and those who are far more capable than he. He has represented the school at a regional swimming gala and won medals. He has grown responsible not only for himself but for his surrounding as well. He has become a citizen of the world’. To us he brings the gift of laughter, of joy, of spontaneity.
"Basically he has been given his life back, as have his family who now, relieved from the stress of a having a ‘problem’ child, can return to some kind of normality.
"They have moved from needing, for their own sanity, to ‘send him away’ with all the guilt feelings that accompany this, to being ready and proud to have him live at home again.”
What is the message in this story?
"Inclusion is an attitude not an activity," says Laurence Alfred, a co-ordinator at Camphill School Aberdeen. "Yes technically Rowan was included, but the reality was so very different. Nobody wanted to play with him, no one had time to teach him, no one invited him home for their Birthday Party, and no-one attended his.
"The family were ‘included’ in their local community, but they were in crisis; not many want to visit a family in crisis or know how to behave in such a situation.
"Why, does it take so long to understand this? Why do so many families have to suffer before help is offered? Why is residential schooling the last option?
"Residential schooling can offer true inclusion where everyone is valued and recognised as having something to offer. Let us promote inter-dependence rather than in-dependence and loneliness. Let us share the care. Let us celebrate our differences.
"The person with Downs has a very special contribution to make to the world just now when everything is becoming more mechanical, automated and in-human. The person with Downs greatest gift is their humanity, just the medicine our world needs today."