'I've tried every school in south Cork' - Distraught mother has nowhere to send autistic daughter in September

Ann-Marie McGoldrick and her mother, Amanda McCullough, from Carrigaline, Co Cork with posters of their daughter and granddaughter, Sophie McCullough, during Tuesday's protest at Leinster House by parents fighting for school places for their children with special educational needs.

Compared with other children her age, Sophie McGoldrick is classed as non-verbal but her smile when she attends her pre-school says everything.

The four-year-old is lucky to have secured a place this year with Sonas, a special preschool for children with autism in her home town of Carrigaline, Co Cork just as she was lucky to have lessons with the local Shine autism centre last year.

But her luck runs out next year when she must leave for primary school because there is no school that can take her.

"I've tried every school in south Cork," said her mum, Ann-Marie. "They either have no autism unit or they have a unit with a waiting list that might be two years long or so long that they've stopped taking names."

Ann-Marie and her own mother, Amanda McCullough, joined other parents from all over the country in a protest outside the Dáil to demand school places for their children. "There's nothing for children like Sophie," said Amanda.

We knew when she was nine months old that something wasn't right and we've had to fight ever since to get her the support she needs. If Ann-Marie hadn't gone private for assessment and therapies, she'd have got nothing.

Ann-Marie said she had been told there might be a place for her daughter two hours drive away in north Cork or somewhere else in the county that is equally distant.

"I couldn't do that do her - putting her in a taxi with strangers to drive two hours there and back every day. It would do her no good at all and yet I'm being told if I don't agree to that, it'll be me who'll be depriving her of an education.

"She has come on leaps and bounds since starting with Shine and now with Sonas. She has about a hundred words, she makes eye contact, she smiles. I might get some home tuition for her but she has thrived being in a school setting and I worry all that progress will be lost."

The Enough is Enough campaign which organised the protest is insisting that the Government uphold their children's constitutional right to an education.

Education Minister Joe McHugh said the Government had significantly increased funding for special education.

There are undoubted challenges when it comes to the establishment of special school and class provision in some schools and communities," he said.

"The Department will consider all applications for funding for schools to re-configure existing space within a school building to accommodate a sanctioned special education class and/or to provide additional accommodation."

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