LAST WEEK, like thousands of other students across the country, Stephen Roche from Abbeyfeale took his first, tentative steps into third level education.
However Stephen, aged 20, is different for one reason – he has Down’s syndrome, and his graduation from school this summer was the fruit of years of dedication and enthusiasm.
Every morning, he gets the bus on his own to and from Tralee Institute of Technology, where he is one of twelve people taking part in a special life skills course.
Stephen’s mother Marian said that her family, friends and everyone who has helped Stephen over the years are overjoyed with his success.
“We hope everything will work out. We’ve gotten very positive feedback, and he has his independence. He had two friends from Listowel who started the same course last year, so he gets to see them again every day now. We want to do what’s right for Stephen.”
A love of learning has always been just across the road from the Roche family, as Marian and her husband Jeremiah’s home at Caherhayes is just a stone’s throw from Meenkilly national school, where Stephen, his two older sisters and older brother were all taught.
Marian said that Stephen spent six happy years at Meenkilly, where he was helped by a full-time special needs assistant, Mary Lane.
After leaving national school, Stephen spent five years at the Nano Nagle school in Listowel, with whom he was able to travel to various sunny destinations, including Lanzarote, Tenerife and Florida.
Marian said Stephen’s graduation from the Nano Nagle school earlier this summer was a proud moment for everyone who had played some small part in his education.
“Meenkilly is a wonderful school, they were absolutely tops. The principal, Donal O’Connor, and all the staff did so much for him. He spent five years in the Nano Nagle, and he got to go to so many different places. He loved it there”.
Stephen’s new life in college is far from being his first taste of independence, however. Over the summer he worked two days a week at the tea rooms at Deenagh Lodge in Killarney, earning money and making friends. Marian, who drops her son at the bus stop in Listowel every morning and collects him every evening, said that Stephen has taken his new routine in his stride.