Government must narrow the gap between rhetoric and reality on autism school supports – Senator Rónán Mullen

Growing concern that use of Reduced Timetables reflects lack of school capacity to appropriately engage with autistic students needs

The challenges being encountered by autistic children, parents and schools was highlighted this morning during a Commencement Debate in Seanad Eireann. The issue was raised by Senator Rónán Mullen, as concerns to continue to grow around the use of Reduced Timetables to either partially or completely remove autistic children from access to class time.

Speaking during the debate, Senator Mullen acknowledged that the increased attempt over the course of the last number of years to integrate children with an Autism diagnosis into mainstream schools yielded positive and transformative outcomes, not only for the children concerned but also for the schools who have had their learning horizons significantly expanded:

“That being said there remains significant and to some extent, growing concern around the effective curtailment of access to school hours through the application of what are termed Reduced Timetables.”

“As I understand it, the Department’s view on Reduced timetables is that they should not be used as a behavioural management technique, or as a de facto suspension or expulsion.”

The reality however speaks to a more nuanced assessment.

“The autism support organisation AsIAm made this explicitly clear in its submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills in late April and again recently at a briefing in the Leinster House AV Room.

“From its own consultation with parents, autistic children and teachers, it concluded that the use of Reduced Time tables were and are being used a de facto behaviour management option with the obvious outcome that these children are being denied access to class time.”

“This they say is mainly down to the failure of the Department to ensure that schools are sufficiently autism friendly.”

“This highlights the gap between the rhetoric of the state with respect to autism supports and the reality on the ground.”

“We saw this in December 2018 when the Galway Autism Partnership, which provides a service to 200 families, appealed to all Oireachtas members to make representations to the department on its behalf.

“As I understand it, the Galway Autism Partnership’s unit, which is based in Athenry and serves Roscommon and Galway, had no service at all for people with autism for the whole of 2013.”

Its most recent Report from 2017 also highlighted the fact that it receives no State funding and relies on extensive fundraising, donations from members of the public and corporate sponsorship.”

I am also deeply concerned at the fact that The Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills Report on this matter has found that many teachers, have no specialist training nor are they required to have specialist training to teach children with disabilities.

“A recent survey by the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland indicated that only 5% of respondents had a postgraduate qualification in special education.”

“So while I very much agree with what the Minister said this morning about the importance of vindicating the right of all children to receive an education-it is clear that there is a significant job of work to be done before the reality catches up with the rhetoric”, concluded Senator Mullen.

Ends

For more information contact Rónán Mullen on 087 244 6911.