Calls to evaluate autism schools in danger of closure

CALLS are being made for a full evaluation of the country’s 13 pilot ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) schools before the Department of Education considers shutting them down.

Fine Gael has said the plans, which will directly affect up to 300 children with autism, “should be put on hold” so that the schools’ effectiveness can be assessed.

Figures obtained by the party show that in Cork and Kerry alone, the numbers of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses has increased 500% between 2001 and January of this year.

In response to a parliamentary question from David Stanton TD, the HSE has admitted diagnoses in these counties rose from 223 nine years ago to 1,146 at the beginning of this year.

“While it is unclear whether this increase is due to increased prevalence or increased diagnoses, the increase is startling.

The HSE has noted that the 2005 Disability Act led to a dramatic increase in referrals to local assessment teams. If this is the case, I wonder how many diagnoses there would be if the act had been implemented in full to all age groups.

“At the moment it is only in operation for children up to the age of five, with implementation for the children aged 6-18 years and adults having been deferred indefinitely,” Mr Stanton said.

Mr Stanton said that the parents of newly-diagnosed children deserve to have a choice in how their children are taught and that the department’s plans would remove this choice.

From September, the Department of Education wants to change the schools from ABA-focussed schools to special schools where ABA is not the main teaching method for children with autism but is used in equal partnership with TEACCH and PECS. They also want to bring in regular teachers and principals to set the educational programme.

Over the past week, ABA professionals and parents have been questioning how the department could “effectively shut down” these schools without having ever completed full assessments of the schools and their efficacy. They say data shows that ABA is the best way of teaching children with autism.

Fine Gael Dublin North East TD Terence Flanagan said he was appalled that the schools’ boards of management were only given 15 days to respond to the department’s proposals.

“It makes no sense to plough millions of taxpayers’ money into these schools and then shut them down without conducting an evaluation,” he said.


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