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Wednesday 25 April 2018

'I can't keep my child locked away at home' - Boy (5) with autism has no school place for September

Ryan Byrne
Ryan Byrne
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

A MOTHER has said she fears her five-year-old son with autism will be forced into home-schooling as she can't find a school for him to attend in September.

Linda Byrne from Balbriggan, Co Dublin told Independent.ie that she is desperately fighting to get a school place for her son Ryan.

Ryan, who has autism, is currently attending pre-school at an Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) unit at an Educate Together school in Skerries, with six other children.

The mainstream school does not have an ASD unit for primary level students and so Linda is desperately searching for a school place for her son for the next school year.

"I'm dreading July when I have to tell Ryan that he won't be going back to his school and he won't be able to see his friends. His school is his safe place so he will be devastated that he has to leave," Linda said.

"There are no schools at all nearby that Ryan can attend. The closest school that will take him is in Artane but he'd have to get up at 6am to get there every day.

"There needs to be more schools with basic ASD units for children with autism. The Department of Education should be ashamed that these kids are left with no schools to go to."

Linda said that her only options are to attend the Artane school or to arrange home-schooling for Ryan.

"Ryan gets really anxious when he travels. He used to throw up all the time on the 10-minute bus journey to school every morning. I can't make him travel an hour to school to get to Artane.

"Whereas finding a tutor for Ryan's needs will be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. If he moves to home-schooling he'll regress completey. He only just learned how to talk and if we take him away from his peers he'll not make any more progress. I can't keep my child locked away at home because there aren't enough supports in schools for kids with autism. These kids are falling through the cracks of the education system."

Linda added that other children "don't have to fight as hard to get school places".

"Ryan has a basic right to education yet there is no school with an available place for him. I'm disgusted by how hard I have to fight for Ryan constantly."

Linda said that six other children in Ryan's class are facing a similar struggle to find a primary school for September.

"It's not just one child that is affected. It's dozens and it happens every year. There is no place for the kids to go.

"Another local school that has an ASD unit has a three-year waiting list. Ryan won't get in until he is at least 8-years'-old and he's as high as fourth on the list.

"I have grant money to buy a uniform but I've no school to buy a uniform for. If Ryan didn't have autism, he would have no problem being accepted into a school. It's heartbreaking.

"I'm not asking for anything mad, I'm just asking for their to be some system that looks after kids with autism like Ryan so that they can access education."

Speaking to Independent.ie, Principal at Skerries Educate Together National School Tomás Hickey said that there is "undoubtedly a crisis emerging in relation to availability of school places for children in the area".

"We have every sympathy for the plight that parents are finding themselves in in not being able to access school places for their young children. In recognition of this growing issue, the Skerries ETNS Board is intent on exploring the establishment of an ASD resource in the future. However, the Board does not see that such a unit can be set up without proper training and planning as well as a purpose-built facility and input from the relevant Government departments and the National Council For Special Education.

"Skerries ETNS has only had experience in accessing resources for pre-school at this point. The Skerries ETNS pre-school for children with ASD, Seolta, has been up and running for four years. The school spent a year and a half preparing for the unit to be opened. During that time a staff member received appropriate training and continued to access training opportunities while teaching the class.

"The Board focused on recruiting some new members of staff who already had relevant experience or training whenever recruitment opportunities arose after this and this allowed the facility to be increased to two classes. Securing resources for this facility was relatively straight forward although quite a lot of fundraising took place to augment the equipment which was acquired from Departmental funding."

CEO of Autism Ireland, Samantha Judge said while the situation has improved year-on-year, there is a widespread problem of finding schools for children with autism.

"Some regions may be better resourced than others, but there are certainly too few specialised placements for children with ASD.

"There are many families indicating that their child is without placement, but yet the NCSE suggests there are sufficient placements available.

"In addition to more placements, there needs to be better training. Teachers in ASD units should ultimately be required to at a minimum, have qualification in autism, but ideally in special education. There needs to be greater efforts to redefine SNA position to acknowledge their role in supporting the child’s development. There also needs to be additional special schools for children with autism and complex needs opened. Many have expanded, but still at best might accommodate approx 40 children, with children commuting for an hour or more."

In a statement the Department of Education said that it would not be appropriate to comment on any individual case but if a parent is struggling to find a place for their child, they should contact their local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO), who is there to support them.

"Where there is no placement available for a child with Special Educational Needs, the Department will consider applications under the Home Tuition Grant Scheme, where a student can receive up to 20 hours home tuition per week as an interim measure until a placement becomes available," the department said in a statement.

The spokesperson pointed to an increase in funding in recent years and said there are more places for students special needs in recent years.

"There are now over 1,300 special classes in mainstream schools, compared to 548 in 2011. 1,048 are special classes catering for students diagnosed with ASD, up from 330 in 2011."

The Department also said that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is "aware of the emerging need in the north Dublin area from year to year, and where special provision is required it is planned and established to meet that need".

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