A new report indicates that while teachers and parents believe that schools are doing their best to include pupils on the autism spectrum, it is with limited access to State resources.
The report, entitled 'The Spectrum of Inclusive Practice for Pupils with Autism Attending Mainstream Primary Schools', was carried out by Colin McElroy of Trinity College Dublin and is based on research spanning eight phases from January 2012 to March 2016.
Part of the research includes input from eight mainstream primary schools — six co-educational and two all boys' schools — where each had access to a special class for pupils on the autism spectrum.
Some 116 questionnaires were circulated to teachers, parents, pupils and SNAs across the eight schools. Overall, it found that "stakeholders have experienced many positive aspects of inclusion across the eight participating primary schools" and that "there was strong consensus on the importance of positive relationships experienced in schools".
Most parents indicate that adults are kind to the children in each school and that children and adults get on well together and many state that their child has good friends in school.
Teachers are seen as approachable and "many parents were satisfied that their school was the best option in their area for meeting their children's needs".
Similarly for teachers, the majority said levels of participation are high among pupils with autism and that the children receive a lot of encouragement. However, only some teachers indicate they are happy with their Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO) and just two teachers conveyed their satisfaction with the support services provided by the State.
"These findings suggest that teachers believe that schools are doing their best to include pupils on the autism spectrum with limited access to resources," it said.
SNAs are more likely to be satisfied with their SENOs, who were viewed by parents as the person responsible for employment and retention of SNAs.
It added that "SNAs felt persistently anxious at the prospect of losing their job, working within an environment of fear and limited job security."
The majority of parents were either unfamiliar with or had never heard of the EPSEN Act, which stresses the aims of an inclusive environment, and according to the report: "There was a general sense of disillusionment among parents with the government."
It said: "There was widespread consensus from most stakeholders on the difficulties to successfully include pupils with autism. It was also acknowledged that these difficulties can become greater as pupils progress through school."
Some teachers report "being overburdened with paperwork and increased workload".
Answers from pupils on the autism spectrum across six mainstream primary schools indicate that they feel respected. A small number have been called names or even been physically attacked but the majority still believe they belong in their school.