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‘My choices are a 100km school run or homeschooling’ – mother of autistic son struggles to find suitable second-level place

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Michelle Lynch pictured with her son son Gareth

Michelle Lynch pictured with her son son Gareth

Michelle Lynch pictured with her son son Gareth

Gareth Barr finishes primary school next Tuesday, but he has no second-level place for September.

It is having a devastating impact on the autistic 12-year-old, who has been refusing to attend school for the past few weeks.

“He says, ‘What’s the point if I have no school place for September’,” said his mother, Michelle Lynch. She is “stressed out”.

“I just feel like I am fighting every day, meeting councillors, TDs, special education needs organisers and everyone has the same answer: ‘There’s no places’.”

Gareth, who is also diabetic, has been unable to secure a post-primary place in his hometown of Athlone, despite an official recommendation from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) local organiser that he be accommodated in the town.

Ms Lynch said the choices facing her were to send Gareth on a daily round trip of 100km to a school that will enrol him, or to homeschool her son.

Sending Gareth 50km away is out of the question because it would be too far for Ms Lynch, a non-driver, to travel if there was a medical emergency related to his diabetes.

She said homeschooling would be “very much a last resort” because “I want him to mix with other children and he can’t be stuck at home on his own”.

In any case, Gareth wants to go to school. “He loves geography, science and history and he’s super at art. He needs to be in those classes to learn more and challenge himself,” she said.

What exasperates Ms Lynch is that it should come as no surprise that Gareth, and nine other children in Athlone in a similar position to her son, would need post-primary places in September.

Gareth had assessments for three years before getting an autism diagnosis in second class.

“He had been struggling in mainstream in one school so we had to get him transferred to Summerhill National School in Athlone, which had an autism unit. He has been there since third class.”

In her search for a place for Gareth, Ms Lynch has contacted about 10 midlands schools, seven of which have autism units, and “they are all full”.

Only one of the four
second-level schools in Athlone has a special class, “and they have all said they have no places”.

While some schools offered a mainstream place, Ms Lynch said they could not guarantee her son would receive necessary special needs assistant support, “especially a full-time one, which is what he needs”.

Ms Lynch has even considered relocating to Co Offaly if a school could accommodate Gareth, but nothing was available.


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