'Trailblazer' thrilled with exam results
A 'TRAILBLAZER' is how parents Michael and Audrey described son Conor O'Dowd after he became the first student in Drogheda with Down's Syndrome to pass the Leaving Cert Applied.
Conor, who was a student at St Oliver's Community College, was excited and thrilled with his results.
His exam subjects included English, maths, hotel catering and tourism, office admin and social education.
'He's a real trailblazer and we're very proud of him,' said Michael. 'He was thrilled with his results and we were thrilled for him.
'It really took the whole school community - teachers, SNAs, fellow students, bus drivers etc - to get him to this level and we are so thankful to them all. Not just in St Oliver's but also his primary school, Tullyallen NS. We've always found the schools, and the principals in particular, so helpful and it made the whole school experience so much easier. He takes with him the friends he has made and his ambitions for the future.'
He revealed Conor's favourite subjects are local history and photography and said the teenager would like to be a photographer in future, having previously been shortlisted in a national UK photography competition.
The teenager expressed his gratitude to all those who provided work experience for him over the last year, including Jimmy Weldon Photography, Morans EuroSpar, Tesco, Ken O'Heiligh at Foscadh Housing, his uncle Fergus O Dowd's Constituency Office and Andrea Hermes in the Walk peer programme.
Conor celebrated his achievement with his parents and proud sisters Daire and Niamhín with a celebratory drink and sing-song in Nolan's pub, where the graduate treated his family to a round of drinks.
Mum Audrey said: 'We are so proud of his achievements and it's also great for other people who have had a little baby with Down's recently to see that there are opportunities and it's not all doom and gloom. This should be the norm for anyone who wants it.'
However, the challenge now facing the family is the question of further education for Conor.
'The next step is hard because we want to keep Conor integrated into the mainstream and into the community - that's what we've always done and that's the route he wants to go - but the choices are non-existent,' said Audrey. 'To access classes in college, he needs help. He needs something structured with support but there is nothing there.'
Michael added: 'While this has been a great day, it is very disappointing that the minister with responsibility for the disability sector has not moved on commitments to introduce an individualised funding model for the disability sector so that people can have choice. This is the norm in other countries but I am afraid Ireland is light years behind.
He said he will be working with a number of groups around the country to change and improve this situation in the coming months.