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(Ireland) Early intervention for autistic kids dropped

Jan 3, 2023, Irish Examiner: Support for school project aimed at bridging therapies for autistic children dropped

A preschool that launched a pilot project aiming to create a ‘bridge’ of early intervention therapies for autistic children has seen official support for the project dropped.

Ros Na Réaltóg, a forest preschool in Castlebar, County Mayo, launched the ARK project in September, which proposes to create a ‘hub' of different early intervention supports and play therapy for children alongside its early years centre. The school currently has 30 students attending.

Founder of the centre Róisín Geddes, a primary school teacher who worked in special education in the UK for almost 20 years, said she developed and launched the project initially for three children. However, she hopes the inclusive early years model could be successfully scaled up nationally.

“The proposal is to create a bridge while parents are waiting on a speech therapist and an occupational therapist and having it all in one place,” she said. “Our Government is talking so much about integration and inclusion and the lack of services and supports, and that’s what we are trying to provide in this hub; An extra bridge while parents are waiting.”


Over the summer, Ms Geddes went through the process of setting up the project with the Department of Education, hired additional staff, and submitted the relevant, requested paperwork. The funding was to come through home tuition, a grant paid by the Department of Education for early educational intervention for autistic children.

As the funding was to come through home tuition, Ms Geddes did not apply for further funding through the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) from the Department of Children.

The three students were without school places at the beginning of September and the paperwork was “stamped off on” by the local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO). However, at the end of October, parents received a letter saying places are now available in Newport, County Mayo.

“As a school, we were going ahead because we were told in good faith we had to process our paperwork, but once that was processed, funding would be allocated.

“I want the children to remain, the parents want the children to stay, we want to continue with what we are doing but that’s very hard to do without support behind it.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said Ros na Réaltóg is a private preschool.

"The vast majority of children with special educational needs (SEN) attending early years setting are supported through AIM."

Ros na Réaltóg has recently been approved as a preschool provider to operate group arrangements through home tuition, which is provided as an "interim measure only".

"While the Department does not comment on individual cases, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has confirmed that there are a sufficient number of early intervention class places available locally, based on those children and their families who have made themselves known to the NCSE."

The local SENO remains available to families, he added.

Ros Na Réaltóg launched a project to create a ‘hub' of different early intervention supports and play therapy for children.


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