Introducing: SNA Tara O'Donovan

Hi to all
My name is Tara and I’m going to be working with James for a while so I thought I’d introduce myself and give you a little bit of my background. 

I’ve worked as a Special Needs Assistant for roughly 12 years with the last 10 being in the same school. I sort of fell into SNA work when a local school needed SNA cover “for a week or two” for a child with a medical condition. They were looking for someone with first aid experience and between several years in the Red Cross and my college course (3rd year Intellectual Disability Nursing at the time), I was happy to fall in while I had some time off'.

To make a long story slightly shorter, I ended up packing in the college course and staying with that school for the remaining six months of the school year. I then worked in a gaelscoil for a year and from there moved to a busy and vibrant mainstream school on Cork’s north-side. 

I have always been interested in technology and, alongside my SNA duties, I run the school’s social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook. An email came into the secretary earlier this year about a one day course for SNAs on Assistive Technology in UCC and, thinking it looked interesting, I signed up for the course on the spot. 

What I didn’t realise until later was that James and I knew each other from years beforehand when we both volunteered to work with children and adults living with disabilities in institutions in Minsk, Belarus (the cover picture is the orphanage). After we re-connected on the Assistive Technology course in UCC, James asked me to come on board the Urability team to get my views as a Special Needs Assistant to try to make sure this course is as practical as possible for those working in a busy school environment.

Over the past decade, as well as working in the school, I completed a post-grad higher diploma through UCC on Disability Studies (Facilitating Inclusion) and have worked at various times as an after school child-minder, private tutor for a child with dyslexia and also with the HSE providing after school relief for children coming from special schools in the Cork area. 

My main interest in work has always been working with children on the autistic spectrum. While every child is coming from a different background and with their own unique experience of life, there are common threads that link that particular cohort of children together and they guide my interactions with every child I work with. 

A few years ago, when sitting in a senior infant classroom, a peer asked my assigned pupil why I was always sitting next to him.My mind went into a whirr. How do you answer that question? Obviously, I cannot breach confidentiality. Nor can I dismiss the question without creating an issue. While my mind was racing through a thousand possible politically correct phrases, the little six year old at my side piped up, 

“Ms. O’Donovan explains things to me so that I don’t get into trouble.”

That was it. In that one simple sentence, he outlined exactly what he needed from me. It’s a line that I always try to keep to the foremost of my mind when working as an SNA. My job is to explain the world to him and him to the world.