May 18, 2022, RTE: 'Let them get a school place' - Mother of autistic boys https://www.rte.ie/news/primetime/2022/0517/1299600-parents-autistic-boys-special-school/
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has apologised in the Dáil to the Milne family, who featured in last night's Prime Time, saying the State has failed to provide them with the education that is appropriate to their needs.
The programme featured Gillian and Darren Milne, and their twin sons, Ryan and Kyle. Here is their story.
Every morning is the same for Gillian and Darren Milne. They take their twin sons, Ryan and Kyle, to a local McDonald's drive-through restaurant for breakfast.
"Hash browns or cheese toasties - that’s all they’ll eat," Darren told Prime Time.
Like other parents of severely autistic children, the couple have come to realise that routine is everything - so much so that, on Christmas Eve, staff at their local McDonald’s give them food to cook at home on Christmas Day.
"We have to pretend, so we go through the drive-through. And then we sit here with the boys, and we take the stuff out of the bags. They eat their McDonald’s, and they are happy with that."
Identical twins Ryan and Kyle were born in 2011. Diagnosed with autism when they were two-and-a-half years old, the boys, now 11, are non-verbal and have a range of other special needs - including ADHD and a severe learning disability.
Gillian and Darren are now pleading for the State to intervene and provide places for the twins in a special school.
Darren has had to give up his job to help look after the twins. The family have become tenants in their own home. And Gillian and Darren’s mental health has suffered immensely. The boys are unlike most children their age.
"They're 11 in their body, but their mental age would probably be three to four tops. You see Ryan and Kyle watch Peppa Pig. It's heart-wrenching," Gillian said....
In September 2019, the Milnes told Prime Time reporter Eithne O’Brien about their despair. Their eight-year-olds did not yet have a place in a special school.
The day after the broadcast, then-opposition leader Micheál Martin raised the matter with then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil, and said that Darren and Gillian’s plight had been "harrowingly revealed".
"The story showed where the government, through its agencies has clearly failed these children and parents," Mr Martin said.
Mr Varadkar replied that the Minister for Education had committed to examine their case "to see if there is anything more that can be done more quickly".
Two years before that Dáil exchange, in 2017, Gillian and Darren had sent their sons to school in an autism unit in a mainstream primary school. But they decided to take them out, feeling that it was unsuitable for their sons’ complex needs.
Consequently, they were no longer entitled to a home tutor paid for by the State. After much wrangling, the Department of Education granted the Milnes home tuition for a tutor to come into the home.
But the tutor is not provided by the Department, and it is thus up to the parents to find one. This can be difficult, since home tutors must be qualified teachers.
Ryan and Kyle have been granted 30 hours tuition per week, but their tutor is only available to give them 18 of those hours. Darren and Gillian cannot find anyone to fill their 30 hours….
Last year, the Milnes paid €1,800 [$2,408] to get private psychology assessments of Ryan and Kyle. Both reports recommended that the boys enroll in a special school specifically designated for children with autism, with nursing services attached….
Gillian is angry that, three years after Micheál Martin brought her family’s plight up in the Dáil, they still have no special school place for the boys.
Their situation is made all the worse by the fact that legislation passed in 2004 could have helped parents like Gillian and Darren. The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, Prof O’Mahony said, provided for an appeals board to deal with disputes about child places. But it is not yet in operation.
"Its commencement was delayed following the financial crash in 2008 and it was never put back into train. We've seen this piece of legislation languishing now for 18 years," Prof O’Mahony said.
A Department of Education spokesperson told Prime Time that it "cannot comment on individual cases but it is very anxious to ensure every child who seeks a special education placement can secure one as quickly as possible".
Annual Government investment in special education has increased to over €2 billion [$3B], according to the Department.
The spokesperson acknowledged that, despite this spend, "There are some parts of the country, including Dublin, where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of special class and special school places".
As their long wait continues, Gillian and Darren are again pleading to be heard.
"Please for Ryan and Kyle's sake, please let them get a school place that they need and deserve. They're beautiful children," Gillian said.
"But, apart from that, please don't let this happen to any other family. I would not wish this on my worst enemy – and for anyone to have to go through, for 11 years, what Darren and I have gone through."
Darren Milne has given up his job with Dublin Bus to help look after the twins