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IRELAND: 584% increase in autism classes from 2010 to 2020

Jan 17, 2024, Irish Examiner: Second-level special classes increase by 714% in 12 years 

The number of second-level special classes increased by 714% from 2010 to 2022, primarily due to a 905% increase in classes for autism, according to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

Second-level special classes for autism grew from just 65 in 2010 to 653 in 2022 while at primary level, special classes in general grew from 356 to 1,807 in the same period. This growth was also overwhelmingly due to the increase in the number of special classes for autism, increasing by 584% from 214 in 2010 to 1,463 in 2022.

The figures are contained in the NCSE’s policy advice paper which recommends the development of an inclusive education system which would see all students catered to in local schools, including those with special educational needs.

The NCSE said the demand for additional special classes shows no sign of decreasing, adding that there has been a notable increase, both nationally and internationally, in the number of children diagnosed with autism.

This increase along with a widely held belief that a special class is the best educational placement for an autistic child is resulting in “significant demand” for the establishment of special classes for autism in Irish schools.

“The perception among parents and schools that placement in a special class or special school is better has received strong support in public discourse which, in turn, has increased the pressure on the NCSE and the Department of Education to establish more special classes,” the advice paper reads.

The NCSE said it is not clear if the increase in autism prevalence should be interpreted as a “real” increase or whether this increase is due to greater awareness and subsequent higher numbers of diagnoses.


Also noted is that clinicians are more likely to diagnose a child with autism, including those who are on the borderline of the clinical criteria, due to the greater access to specialised health and education services while diagnostic criteria have also expanded.

The NCSE said data from 2022 shows a prevalence rate of autism of 3.38% in Ireland, compared to 1.55% in 2018. The NCSE said the growth in demand for placement in special classes will continue into the future along with pressure for the establishment of additional special classes….


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