Ivar often faces misconceptions about students from special education. Are they not smart enough for university? He understands the misunderstanding: many people aren’t aware that mytyl schools – special education institutions for children with various disabilities – also offer education at the senior general secondary education (HAVO) level. Yet, despite this path leading from HAVO through higher professional education (HBO) to university, few students dare to take it. “In all my years here, I’ve only come across one girl from the mytyl school”, shares Ivar.

Ivar has ADHD and DCD – Developmental Coordination Disorder. “In practice, it means significant clumsiness in my fine motor skills”, he explains. “Learning to cycle and swim took much more effort, not to mention writing.” Despite these challenges, Ivar thrived in a ‘regular’ primary school. To aid his writing, he was allowed to type on a sort of primitive computer in primary school.

None of this hindered his school experience. “I’m quite optimistic and enthusiastic, and making friends tends to come easily”, he recalls. Learning also came naturally to Ivar, and he grew into quite the bookworm. “We had a really big bookcase at school, and I think I read at least half of those books.”

A number

It wasn’t until Ivar went to Calvijn, a secondary school in Barendrecht, that things went wrong. “I had a guidance counsellor in the first year, but after just a month and a half, she was gone due to surgery. They didn’t have a replacement for me for a long time after that. So suddenly I had to do everything on my own.”

Ivar often felt like just a number, the school didn’t understand the concept of DCD, and he also noticed that people – both inside and outside the school – sometimes treated him disparagingly. “There was a taxi driver who picked me up from school, and who would ask very slowly, ‘how… was… your… day… today?’”

Without arms and legs

It was decided that Ivar would be better off in special education, leading him to the mytyl school De Brug. “At first, it felt a bit strange. You get picked up by this little bus – very weird. And then, on your first day, you are confronted with students in wheelchairs, as well as others who faced even greater challenges. There was a boy without arms and legs, and another with a perpetually flushed face due to breathing difficulties. Others had severe autism, it really ran the gamut.”

At the mytyl school, everyone was different, yet that made everyone the same. “Within the school, you quickly realise that you belong to a marginalised group. I don’t see it as negative, but it’s a whole different world.” In fact, he has many fond memories of his school. “The teachers were all very kind and knew everyone’s name. It was like you were immediately part of a family.”

Team Handy

Because of this, bullying occurred much less frequently than in the outside world, Ivar observed. “It still happened occasionally; they were still kids, after all. But many students tried to derive strength from their disability. I remember there was a sports team called ‘Team Handy’. Handy for handicap, but also from handy. You try to make something fun out of your childhood.”

His time at the school has permanently changed Ivar. “It made me become much more understanding of other people.” In his final year, Ivar had various ambitions. “I wanted to understand how people work, how I can help people.” While he wanted to go to a college of applied sciences for a degree in Psychology, he noticed that the school mainly prepared them for a future in assisted living. “And that is very important for many students. Let’s be realistic; the chance of them going to university is much smaller.”

The only one to attend university

Ivar Berkman_toegankelijker maken EUR speciaal onderwijs_DSC05933_10.4.2024_Hilde Speet
Image credit: Hilde Speet

Ivar wanted more and pursued higher education, enrolling in the Sociology programme at Erasmus University after obtaining his propaedeutic diploma. He was the only one from his graduating class (about ten HAVO students) who took this step. And it is going very well, indeed. While COVID caused some delays, and he encountered a problem during one examination where he had to write, he is currently almost done with his Bachelor’s programmes in Sociology and Philosophy – he just needs to finish his theses. Naturally, perhaps, one of those theses is about the obstacles children from special education face on their way to higher education.

To demonstrate that it is possible, he plans to return to his old high school. He’ll do this in June, alongside teacher Katharina Bauer from the Erasmus School of Philosophy. “We’ll be teaching philosophy for two afternoons to all groups, from the pre-vocational level to HAVO level. Because philosophy is for everyone.” He is under no illusion that mytyl school students will apply to university in great numbers afterwards, however. “But it would be nice to call attention to the possibility. And if this helps even one other person, I’ll consider it a success!”

In the future, he hopes to expand the guest lectures at the mytyl school from the university to other fields. “Perhaps Law or Economics, for example. Because why couldn’t you become an accountant if you’re in a wheelchair?”

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