The mother of a boy with autism is chaining herself to the gates of the Department of Education offices in Athlone in a bid to highlight her campaign to have her son educated in a specialised setting close to home.
Debbie Byrne says the Department has decided to send Aaron to a school 30 miles from home in a facility she says is not equipped to deal with his needs.
In a facebook post, Debbie said: “As his mother, I refuse to accept this. I am his voice.”
Aaron requires a home tuition grant to return to his previous school at Jonix Educational Services, which specialises in working with young children who have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
At Jonix, each class consists of a maximum of six children and is staffed by a teacher and three tutors. Play and fun are a central part of the curriculum.
Aaron is three and a half years old, and has a diagnosis of non-verbal classic autism. He attended private Jonix pre-school last year from September 2014 to July this year. Debbie said that when he started in Jonix he did not interact with others and never made eye contact, was not walking and was not feeding himself independently. However, ”(Jonix) brought him from his own world into ours,” she said.
The home tuition grant funded Aaron’s place in Jonix. Debbie said that under that grant policy, if there is a placement in a State-run pre-school, people cannot avail of the grant. The Department offered her a place for Aaron in a school 15 miles away, which Debbie argues is not equipped for him.
She said there was a chance that, due to Aaron’s serious mobility issues, it was likely he would need to be carried around the school and that if he were to be faced with the conventional method of teaching, he would refuse point blank out of fear and anxiety to cooperate, leading to serious regression.
After the place in the first school 15 miles away fell through, the Department made an offer of a place in a school 30 miles away, which Debbie says is similarly ill-equipped.
“My son can’t speak for himself. If I don’t stand up for what I believe is right and what is just for him, it’s all for nothing,” she said.
Updated 1.30pm. A statement from the Department of Education and Skills (DES) said "In relation to this case, the Department received the application for Home Tuition this morning. The application is incomplete.
"However, the application will be considered as expeditiously as possible and if further information is required to complete this consideration the Parents will be contacted. I expect that a decision on the application will be made early next week."