Schools in certain areas are showing “humungous” reluctance to set up special classes for children with autism.
New figures from the Department of Education show that 210 children who need special education are being tutored at home because they don’t have a school place.
Campaigners are warning that the high numbers of children being excluded from school show that the system is broken.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Miriam Kenny, the Chair of Involve Autism and mother to an autistic son said it is “exceptionally stressful” for parents seeking special education for their children.
“If your child has autism and has a recommendation for a special class or special school this is where the difficulty really happens for parents,” she said.
“We have lots of schools that support autistic children very well in the mainstream setting but there is a cohort of child that it is recommended by a psychologist for that child to be in an autism special class or in a special school and herein lies the problem – how do you get a place for your child?”
She said parents get “very little support” from the State right through from the moment their child is diagnosed with autism – and many do not know where to turn.
“We would have parents in our area who would have applied to up to 30 schools to try and find a place for their child – and might or might not have been successful,” she said.
While families are offered a Home Tuition Grant to educate their child at home, they are left to source their own tutor and manage the situation themselves.
“There is nobody overseeing that,” she said. “If you are not involved in education, how do you really know what is being delivered there?
“There are some fantastic tutors and I am not saying that either but it is very complex and it is very, very, very stressful.”
Ms Kenny said the Dublin 6 and Dublin 6W area had just one school offering one autism class when she launched the Involve Autism campaign.
“Schools can cater for autism if they want to set up a class,” she said.
“You will find that schools don’t want to do that and we have found the reluctance has been humongous in our own areas and maybe that is because of fear.
“But you will find that when schools do set up classes – and established schools, in particular, have a lot of very good infrastructure already there – they will say to you that we have learned so much and the other children in the school have learned an awful lot.”
She said schools that fail to put programmes in place are effectively discriminating against autistic children.
“We are in a diverse world and you can’t just decide this is too difficult for this area to do that.
“We have run a very data-driven campaign and we have found historically in our disadvantaged schools there are much more classes than in your non-disadvantaged schools shall we say,” she said.
“Those schools have embraced those children all along and very much wanted them to be part of the community and other schools haven’t done that, so it is not a fair playing field.”
The Government has said all new schools will have to provide for children with special needs from this year onwards.
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