Sunday 18 March 2018

Funding row shuts school for children with autism

Breda Heffernan

A SCHOOL that provides specialist teaching for children with autism will close tomorrow after the education minister rejected new funding proposals.

Until now, the parents of the eight pupils at the Achieve ABA school in Donaghmede, Dublin, have funded much of their children's education themselves.

But because of mounting debts, they can no longer afford to do so. Parent Daniel O'Mahony, whose son Aidan (8) is a pupil, said that a funding shortfall has grown to €100,000 over recent years and they have been left with no choice but to close.

Mr O'Mahony, a chartered accountant, said he had costed proposals that showed their model of providing ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) is more than 25pc cheaper than educating autistic children in special-needs schools.

He said the privately funded Achieve ABA in Donaghmede can educate a child, for one year, for €30,000. This compares to €38,000 in a special-needs school and around €36,000 in the Department of Education and Skills' 13 pilot ABA schools.

ABA is a one-to-one intensive method of teaching social, motor and verbal behaviour and reasoning skills. Achieve ABA was set up by a group of parents five years ago and, since then, several children have progressed to mainstream primary schools.

"Aidan was diagnosed when he was two years eight months and basically there were no services out there . . . I got networking with a number of other parents and we got together and formed a charity," Mr O'Mahony said.

To fund the school, the parents pooled their home tuition payments from the Department of Education and Skills.

They got these payments because their autistic children were not in a mainstream school. They also raised funds and put in their own money into the pool. The school started off with six pupils and now has eight.

The parents still get those home tuition payments, but because each year there was not enough money in the kitty to pay the overall costs of running the school, by the time their debts hit €100,000 they could no longer afford to run it.


The school currently has one primary school teacher, two people holding masters in ABA, one behavioural analyst and three psychologists.

"When my little boy started at the school, he could say two words. Now he can read simple books and is on his 14th book.

"Five years ago, if somebody had told me Aidan would one day read, I'd be happy if they could just get him to talk," said Mr O'Mahony. "To see him go from two words to this very happy little boy and for the school to close, it's just heartbreaking," he added. It is unclear as to where the eight children will go following the closure of the school tomorrow.

In a statement issued last night, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) said it had considered Achieve ABA's proposal but found that it was not in line with its policy on educational provision for children with autism.

"The policy is to provide for children with special educational needs, including autism, to be included in mainstream schools unless such a placement would not be in their best interests," it said.

"DES acknowledges the benefits of ABA and encourages teachers to apply ABA-based strategies where appropriate in learning and teaching strategies for pupils with autism."

Irish Independent

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