Special Me follows Gareth Knox and his family at a time when their lives are about to change
For most of us, it’s a time of excitement, but for young people with learning difficulties / disabilities and their families, leaving school can be a time of anxiety as they face a change in support services, a reduction of respite care and uncertainty about the future.
Special Me, made for BBC Northern Ireland by Below the Radar, follows Gareth Knox (photo above) and his family at a time when their lives are about to change beyond all recognition.
Gareth has Down Syndrome and Autism. He’s about to turn 18. As he moves from child to adult services, his respite arrangements are unknown and he’s preparing to leave school at the age of 19. It’s an emotional and uncertain time for his family and a scenario familiar to many families across Northern Ireland.
The programme also follows 19-year-old Phoebe Dalrymple on her last week at school and 32-year-old David Skelly, who left 13 years ago, to see how they have coped with this key phase in their lives.
The film’s producer/director, Eimhear O’Neill, said: “Special Me is a documentary very close to my heart. When I was growing up, I was surrounded by the special needs community in Magherafelt as my mum worked at the local special school. Every summer, I volunteered in their summer scheme and I was introduced to an incredibly loving, thoughtful and vibrant community. At the end of each academic year, I would ask my mum: who is leaving this year and what will they do when they leave?
“When BBC Northern Ireland launched their new director’s scheme, it asked for ideas about people we rarely see or hear from. For me, the answer was simple: it was the children with learning difficulties/disabilities who attended some of my childhood birthdays; the same children who have now grown up and are in their 20s, like me; the same children that attend or had attended schools like Kilronan, where my mum continues to work.
“As a director, I wanted to highlight the options that lie ahead when these young people leave school at 19 across Northern Ireland. For some of them the options can be limited and for others there are more choices. I felt it was very important to follow three very different young people with learning difficulties/disabilities to see how they are coping and have coped with this key phase in their lives.”
- Eimhear O'Neill
- Mary Curry
- Eimhear O'Neill