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  • Northside West

Parents demand autism school

Wednesday, 27th February, 2019 8:00am
Parents demand autism school
Parents demand autism school

A GROUP of parents with autistic children who are campaigning for an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Specific school in Dublin 15 say the results of a recent survey backs their cause.

The group conducted the survey of primary and secondary school principals in the area and found 68 percent of them believed they had students who would be better placed in an ASD school.

The survey of all primary and secondary schools in Dublin West carried out last December found that 103 out of 177 (59 percent) of children in ASD classes never access mainstream education.

The Autism School Dublin 15 Committee, made up of parents and experts in autism, say providing autistic children with mainstream education was one of the core aims of ASD classes when they were first established.

The committee is now calling for an autism specific school to cater for preschool, primary and secondary school age children in the Dublin West area.

Senior educational psychologist, Dr Helen Connaughton, says children with very complex presentations of ASD are struggling in ASD classes in mainstream schools due to the extent of their challenging behaviours.

“Some children are on reduced days while others have no option but to seek the Home Tuition Grant,” she added.

“This means that the educational and developmental needs of some of the most vulnerable children are not being met.

“However, it has been my experience that the needs of these children are often better met in specialised ASD schools and settings.”

The committee has the support of local TDs Joan Burton (Lab), Ruth Coppinger (Solidarity - PBP) and Jack Chambers (FF), along with a number of councillors from Fingal County Council. 

They are also maintaining contact with Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar’s office.

The committee maintains that an ASD Unit within a mainstream school is not a suitable learning environment for many children with autism.

They point out that school staff are generally not rained to cope with behavioural issues such as flight risks, self harm, sensory overload and violent outbursts that sometimes happen when autistic children cannot express themselves effectively.

The majority of children with moderate to severe autism are non-verbal and spokesperson for the committee, Síle Parsons, says mainstream education simply can’t cater for many of them.

“Units or special classes in mainstream schools are there to support children with ASD who have the ability to access mainstream class,” she explained.

“The children with more complex needs are being forced into an educational environment that is not able to cope with their needs and as such - as was confirmed in our survey - up to 20 students are on continually reduced hours with others being excluded from the school altogether.”

Parsons also points out that there also isn’t enough classes to cater for the number of children with ASD.

“Once an ASD class of six places is filled, it is limited to the same six children for the eight years of primary school,” she continued.

“The same situation applies for the six years of secondary school. 

“Due to this inadequacy in the number of places available, parents with children of school going age and children who have been excluded are faced with no other option but to start the arduous task of applying for the Home Tuition Grant

“The present system discriminates against these children by forcing their parents to go through a heartless, bureaucratic process every year whereby they have to seek to have their children rejected by the local schools (and in some instances schools up to 30km away), before the department allows them to avail of the grant.”

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has been instructed by the Department of Education to compile research into the need for an ASD school in Dublin 15.

However, a report on the research has not yet been published. The committee has vowed to continue its campaign.

Read the digital editions of the Dublin People Northside East, Northside West & Southside here