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Autism judgment

Year after year, the tragic difference of opinion between the Department of Education and the parents of autistic children has been argued and debated in court in what a Chief Justice once described as a depressing saga.

If depressing was an apt description at the time judgment was being handed down at the end of Kathy Sinnott's 20-year battle to secure the right to education for her autistic son Jamie, then what words could possibly now express the feelings of the O Cuanachain family, seven years later?

In the end, Kathy Sinnott lost her battle and now it looks as though little Sean O Cuanachain and his parents have finally lost theirs.

Parents of autistic children disagree with the Department over the effectiveness of a treatment called Applied Behavioural Analysis.

ABA is an intensive method of teaching social, motor, and verbal behaviour and reasoning skills. Essentially, it teaches children how to learn.

Parents believe it is by far the best treatment and this view is backed by many experts, not least a member of a task force that advised the Department of Education on autism who described ABA as far superior to other treatments.

The Department and the minister reject the exclusive use of ABA and favour a combination of methods.

Sean's parents fought for 68 days in the High Court to try to force the State to provide him with ABA treatment. They lost their case and, yesterday, the court ruled that each side must pay its own costs, costs which total in the region of €5m.

The family say they face a desperate future and may lose their home.

They say the Department of Education used their case to avoid a precedent whereby ABA would have to be extended to more schools.

Parents of some 70 other children whose cases are pending must think long and hard now about the cost of challenging the might of the State.

The State decides which public services will be provided and how much revenue will be spent on them.

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The courts are not empowered to tell the State how to spend our tax euro.

Nevertheless, it is hard for the parents of autistic children to reconcile those facts with the millions spent on legal fees, money which could have paid for years of ABA treatment for the boy . . . and then, for the man.

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