Irish Examiner View: Diminished by our indifference - Autism and education

Irish Examiner View: Diminished by our indifference - Autism and education

This society has a long and grim history of exclusion, especially around children who, for whatever reason, arrive among us by a route less travelled, sometimes with characteristics that might categorise them in a challenging way.

If mother-and-baby homes once symbolised this institutionalised differentiation then the idea that a Catholic baby who died before being baptised could not be buried on sanctified ground underlined it in the most cutting, individual way.

Those old sanctions are unacceptable today but we have new ones, exclusions more based on fate than faith.

Today we report on the struggle some parents of autistic children face to find a place for their child’s education.

Those difficulties are often part of the process that pales when compared to the opportunity denied or delayed — the opportunity to develop the life skills to make independent living a reality.

That old phase — opportunity knocks but once — is all too pressing in the context of an education for a person with autism.

Delay, when the moment arrives, can mean stagnation if not regression. Yet, that delay is all too common.

There is then, in far too many cases, the spirit-breaking impact this physical and emotional marathon has on parents, siblings and grandparents too, who, despite their very best efforts, come to believe they are alone and running into impenetrable walls of bureaucracy.

Some, in a last-ditch effort to find a suitable school that will welcome their child decide to move home leaving the community where they have deep roots.

Once again, we reach the how-can-this-be-in-such-a-rich-society question.

This question, one that never loses its sting no matter how often used, cuts all the deeper because the vast majority of people in this country are more caring than not, more willing to help than not.

Access to education is not a privilege but a right for all citizens.

It is time to end the official prevarication, the we-would-if-we-could dodges on this and many other issues driving the inequities at the root of the anger that spoke so loudly last weekend.

There is hardly a viable option for society. There certainly is not one for the individuals and families caught in this cycle of frustration and heartbreak.

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