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‘Time running out’ to find autistic child school place

A mother from Co Tipperary has spoken about her despair as her youngest son, who is autistic, cannot get a place in his nearest special school that can cater for his educational needs because it is oversubscribed.

Róisín Powell, from Cahir, has said that alternative arrangements that were offered to her and her partner Robert, involved her son Rory either taking a four-hour round bus journey to school in Kilkenny or Limerick each day or else getting a home tutor, which will not work with their family dynamic.

It comes as today marks World Autism Awareness Day, while yesterday saw the start of World Autism Month.

AsIAm, Ireland’s Autism Charity, has today launched its annual Same Chance Report, which finds autistic people and their families are facing many challenges in everyday life, with access to education one of the problems being highlighted.

This is something that has been echoed by Ms Powell, who said Rory originally faced difficulties getting a place in a pre-school for autistic children when the family moved to Ireland from the UK in 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rory, who is now six, was diagnosed as autistic and global developmental delay in the UK. He was classed as “moderate to severe”, meaning that an autism unit within a mainstream primary school would not be suitable for him.

Rory is set to move into Primary School in September

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms Powell said that the ASD specific preschool that Rory is currently attending has been “phenomenal” for him.

“He’s progressed massively in the two years that he has been there, and he has come on leaps and bounds and he is willing to do a lot more at school than he is at home for us.”

However, problems have again arisen as they now try to get a place for Rory in the special school that can cater for his additional needs and is the one located closest to where the family lives in Co Tipperary.

“In September, Rory is transitioning to primary school and there is such a lack of services for children within the sector of disability and unfortunately, the education side of things is hugely impacted,” she said.

She added: “We applied to Scoil Aonghusa Special School in Cashel. It’s the only special school that would have taken him for the criteria that he would have in the moderate to severe bracket. So, it was pretty much our only option for Rory to go to this school in September.

“But unfortunately, they only had 14 spaces available and there were 39 applicants, so Rory was one of the 25 that didn’t get in. So, we’re now left with no school place for September.”

Ms Powell has said that the family has been offered a number of alternatives, but they are not suitable.

“I just feel like time is running out and nothing is actually being done”

“With the set-up of our family dynamic, it is not suitable for us to have a tutor come in everyday and educate him from home. Plus, I feel that Rory needs to be socially integrated to help with that side of his condition,” she said.

She added: “They’ve also asked if it is OK if he is placed on a bus to go to Kilkenny or Limerick each day for school, which would mean he would be two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening to and from school, which was an absolute no for me.

“I wouldn’t expect any parents to put their child on a bus for that length of time just to attend school every day.”

Ms Powell also said that the current situation is proving stressful for her family, and they do not know where to get help.

“We’re trying to find any way we can to make this happen and unfortunately, we have not got much guidance. We have not got much support and now we’re in the Easter holidays so everybody seems to be on leave as well, which isn’t great. I just feel like time is running out and nothing is actually being done.”

The Department of Education has said it and the National Council For Special Education (NCSE) are continuing to work with schools and patrons to ensure that special class and special school places are being provided across the country, including in Co Tipperary.

In a statement, it said: “At local level, the NCSE is currently reviewing the overall demand for such provision in the area alongside the availability of space in local schools.

“The NCSE and the department continue to engage on a regular basis in relation to the provision of additional special education placements.

“The local NCSE special educational needs organisers (SENO) remains in contact with the principals of the local schools and with the parents of children in the area.

“Parents will be duly notified as new special class or school placements become available and are sanctioned for the 2024/2025 school year within the area.”

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