Parents across Dublin come together to address autism concerns

by Cóilín Duffy

Concerned parents from across the capital came together in large numbers at St Mary’s College RFC last week to express their concerns over access to school places for children with special educational needs.

They were joined by a number of politicians, who took time out from their election campaigns to attend the event, which was organised by South Dublin group ‘Involve Autism’.

The speakers on the night included Adam Harris (CEO AsIAm) and Andrew Torrence from the National Council for Special Education.

It emerged from the meeting that parents are being forced to apply to up to 30 schools in an effort to secure an appropriate placement for their child in primary and second level education

“We’ve come together since 2018 as parents first of all, as being parents of a child with autism can be very isolating,” Miriam Kenny, chairperson of Involve Autism told Dublin Gazette.

“One of the biggest concerns for the parents in our group is the education provision for their children.

“There are different levels of support that an autistic student may need when attending school which is dependent on their level of need.

“There are three levels of autism. Level 1 requiring support, level 2 requiring substantial support, level 3 requiring very substantial support.

“There are a number of autistic students that are supported very well in our local mainstream schools if they are lucky enough to have the support that they require e.g have access to an SNA etc.

“However, there are a number of autistic students with more complex needs who are recommended for the extra support of a special class attached to a mainstream or a special school.

“There are autistic students with no school places, some are in inappropriate mainstream settings and some are receiving home tuition due to the acute shortage of Autism Special Classes in South Dublin.”

Some parents have had to resort to moving to other parts of the country to get a school place.

The meeting heard that in one case a child is travelling 46km each day to school, despite living 200 metres from the local school, and that the child’s parents are distraught.

The National Council for Special Education has published policy advice recommending that children with Special Educational Needs will effectively be mainstreamed.

This has led to confusion over how children are to be educated. The parents feel confused and are seeking clarity on how best to educate their autistic children.

They have called on TDs to pledge their support to ensure that their childrens’ education is a priority, and they want to ensure that the process which started on November 14 last by the Minister for Education continues, and that schools are ‘supported, resourced and that appropriate training is given to Teachers, SNAs and the School community.

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