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(Ireland) Parents can't find schools places for ASD kids; special schools growing

June 24, 2019, Irish Examiner: 'All we are told is no, no, no': Parents of children with autism reveal uphill battles to find schools At both primary and secondary level, school places for special needs children are at a premium and parents are under huge pressure with the lack of supports, writes Noel Baker There is a truly terrible book to be written about all the misguided, ill-judged and frankly terrible things said to parents who have children on the autism spectrum, except no one would want to read it — especially not Louise Griffin. “I think the worst piece of advice we were ever given was that we should go and have a good cry and mourn the loss of our child,” she says, sitting alongside her husband, Gearóid, in their sitting room in the Cork suburb of Ballincollig. She issues a few quiet tears. “That really gets me. I remember that stupid comment, saying ‘I am not crying because he has it, I’m crying because we have to fight everybody now, just to make his life a little bit easier’.”… More recently, the Griffins have heard it quite a lot from schools — no, we can’t take your son, Finbarr, next year. No, we don’t have the spaces available. “Finbarr has never been educated in his local community,” Louise says. We have always had to commute…. Now it is the transition to secondary school that occupies their thoughts. The family has a bumper file, one that has added to recently by all the rejection letters from schools. “Flat-out refusals from 10, 11 schools,” Gearóid says. In some of the others he was on lengthy waiting lists and the options were dwindling. It’s the same story in Dublin, where Catherine Andrews, mother of Alex, and Louise Lawlor, mother of Aidan, are trying to ensure their children get a suitable place in primary school. They are at different stages of a grinding and uncertain process: Alex, who is three and the middle of three children, won’t be starting primary school until September 2020, but Catherine is already concerned. Louise says Aidan, who is six, needs something this coming September. “I’m running out of time before he gets a school,” Catherine, from Clonsilla in Dublin 15, says. In January I am really going to be fighting for places. … The Griffins, as well as Catherine and Louise are far from alone when it comes to the scramble to ensure the right educational setting for their children. The pressure is building and the question is whether the state response, and those of schools around the country, is at all adequate. Last year, 432 Section 29 appeals were lodged, including 355 in relation to a failure by a school to enrol a child — well above the figures for the previous two years. Some 124 special schools provide for children with autism and very complex special needs. The number of special education teachers has increased by 37% from 9,740 in 2011, to over 13,400, special needs assistants by 42%, from 10,575 in 2011 to 15,000, as well as 83 SENOs. A spokesman said funding for special education provision in 2018 amounted to some €1.75bn, up 43% since 2011, and that 160 new special classes opened for the 2018/19 school year. … According to the department: The growth in provision in special schools with placements increasing from 6,848 in 2011 to 7,872 this year is a strong indicator of the willingness of schools to voluntarily meet the identified needs of children in their communities. … New powers were granted to the Minister for Education last December which means he can order a school to facilitate a special class if there is a proven need. That power has yet to be invoked and according to the Department: “It is the minister’s view is that it should only be used as a measure of last resort.”… A diagnosis of autism will not change and Graham believes there are a number of schools in the Cork area that should have a special class, including cases where people cite the existence of other schools that are offering those classes as a reason not to. But that does not take into account the growing demand. He believes that in some cases some schools are simply afraid that allowing special classes would impact negatively on overall grades. … “The schools don’t want to deal with these children,” Catherine argues. “Every school is making up their own rules, to be honest.”… According to Louise Griffin: “The schools that don’t take any child, or don’t even have an ASD unit are doing themselves a disservice because for society to grow and develop and we do have to, for acceptance, we cannot have discrimination in this day and age... they are not allowing their students to get used to different types. The diversity isn’t there.” …


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