Meeting on the plan for children with autism


The Minister of State for Special Education is meeting with autism campaigners this afternoon to discuss a controversial proposal to accommodate children with autism and other disabilities in the Dublin area in special temporary education centers From September onwards.

Autism activists and school principals reacted in shock to the decision, which was announced on Twitter by Minister Josepha Madigan.

Details of the plan – designed to address a severe shortage of places in schools in the capital – emerged last night and involves a network of five centers run by education and training boards.

It was described as a “model”, suggesting it could be rolled out in other areas.

However, in a statement this morning, Ms Madigan said the plan is ‘work in progress and still at a very early age’.

Adam Harris of the charity AsIAm said he was “really shocked” by the plan which will mean “the segregation of children with autism from their peers”.

Mr Harris said his organization estimated there were at least several hundred children with autism across the country who had been unable to find a suitable place in school for the month of September.

AsIAm is currently surveying parents and hopes to have a definitive idea of ​​the extent of the shortage of school places by tomorrow.

Last night on Twitter, Ms Madigan described the plan as a ‘further measure to ensure that while children wait for a new placement in a special class in a mainstream school, they can access a more sustained level of support in a setting with peers of their age”.

Ms Madigan said she wanted to stress that “this proposal is not a medium or long-term alternative to a special class placement in a school”.

She said children could “temporarily access education at a new SEN center and be supported to move quickly to placement in a special class in a mainstream school”.

“We are still working on this proposal and it is by no means a long-term solution.”

She said children would have access to qualified teachers and ANS at the new centres.

School principals reacted to the news with astonishment.

“I’m so sorry for these children. They’re going to end up in a children’s ‘Mosney’,” a director told RTÉ News, comparing the proposed centers to a form of the much-criticized direct delivery system for asylum seekers. .

Mr Harris said he believed the plan could be unconstitutional.

“There are serious questions about whether or not such a plan would pass the constitutional test of providing a ‘proper’ upbringing for children,” he said.

“Ireland has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which means we need to move towards inclusive education, but that separates children and brings them together simply because of their diagnosis.”

“Ten Steps Back”

Inclusion Ireland, an advocacy organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, described the plan as “like ten steps backwards on the road to inclusive education”.

The group said it had “not been contacted or consulted in any way” on the measures, despite participating in consultative forums on special and inclusive education.

Inclusion Ireland CEO Derval McDonagh said ‘separate ‘short-term’ solutions… are fast becoming the accepted norm which lasts years longer than expected and is not what children deserve for their education”.

Labor TD Duncan Smith called the plan “disconnected and unbridled politics”.

TD Duncan Smith work

He said the emergence of the initiative last night was ‘no way to make a major public announcement’ given the issue is ‘so sensitive and important’ and he claimed it had ’caused ‘huge concern and distress’.

Mr Smith claimed the policy was “totally at odds” with what Minister Madigan announced last week, in which she pledged to use special powers to increase the number of pupils in schools.

He added that the new policy sounded like schools that ‘didn’t pull themselves together’ would be allowed to get away with it’ and parents would be concerned as they know ‘short-term fixes’ often become the ‘norm’. .

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he thought the way the case had come to public attention could have been better communicated.

“I think the language used yesterday was maybe not the best,” he told the Dáil.

“No parent wants to be told that their child is being offered a temporary solution. I particularly dislike the term autism center.”

The Tánaiste also told the Dáil that “mainstreaming” is government policy for children with special educational needs.

He is due to meet the parents of two autistic boys today.

Additional reporting: Paul Cunningham


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