Tonio’s greatest asset is his brain. The boy is intelligent and has a curious mind. He likes to read, especially about dinosaurs and astronomy. Perhaps his being a “book worm” stems from his physical limitations. But, for whatever the reason, his reading level is advanced for his age.

Tonio still has mixed feelings about school. He likes the stories in the books. And, little by little, he has come to like—and in private, even speak to—his current teacher. But, for Tonio, school also has its distressing downsides:

First: Getting to school is an ordeal. The most direct route from home is over a rough footpath that is quite steep in places. Though only a 10 minute walk, he can no longer do it by himself. Every morning his grandmother walks with him to school, providing necessary support. On arrival, she helps him up the two flights of steps in front of the school, and then she walks back home. At noon, when the children go home for a lunch break, she walks again to the school to escort Tonio back home. Although the other pupils return for the afternoon session, Tonio does not. The hot afternoon walks are too exhausting, both for him and for his grandmother. To make up for what he misses in the afternoon lessons, the teacher assigns him extra homework—which Tonio, like most schoolboys, hates—especially the math.

Second: At school Tonio is very much a loner. The big bullies from earlier years are now gone and the present children are basically amiable. The teacher encourages them to befriend and include the isolated boy. But Tonio is so withdrawn and silent that the other kids tend to give up on their efforts, and just ignore him. In some ways, Tonio’s emotional isolation and paralyzing sense of shame have become a greater handicap than his physical disability.

Third: The physical barriers at the school add to the above problems. The precarious flights of steps, which also separate the schoolhouse from the playground, isolate him even more. Ashamed to ask for help in coping with the steps, he sequesters himself in the classroom while his peers romp together in the playground. So it is that the physical, social and psychological barriers amplify one another.