Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are facing a chronic shortage of places for special classes, a Cork ASD programme co-ordinator has warned.
Currently schools can refuse to set up special ASD classes despite requests from parents, other schools, and special education needs organisers (SENO) according to Graham Manning, who runs an ASD programme at a secondary school in Cork.
He said this has led to a chronic shortage of places.
Secondary schools “are abandoning a section of society by refusing to educate them”, he said.
He was speaking at the launch of Homeroom a new organisation seeking improvements in secondary school provision for students with ASD.
Mr Manning called on the Government to support an amendment to the Education (Admissions To Schools) Bill currently working its way through the Oireachtas. The amendment will give the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) the authority to compel schools to set up a special class where there is a need, he said.
There are 15 ASD-specific classes in mainstream secondary schools in Cork City with two in the process of being wound down, Mr Manning said.
“These existing classes are nowhere near sufficient to meet the needs of students coming from ASD classes in primary school, not to mind students in primary school with ASD who are not in special classes but will require one in secondary.”
The school in which Mr Manning works offered three places to students for next year; by its closing date 24 applications had been received, he said. While the situation in Cork is bad, the city is better served than most parts of the country.
Mr Manning said his comparison of official figures showed a shortage of places at second level as there are far fewer ASD classes than provided at primary level, with some of the biggest gaps in Cavan, Clare, Donegal, Dublin, Kildare, Laois, Louth, Monaghan, Offaly, and Roscommon.
The figures do not take into account the number of students who currently do not avail of an ASD class in primary school but will require access in secondary school, Mr Manning added.
The lack of ASD units in secondary schools nationally is becoming a very serious issue, Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said. “Many children who require such assistance and such a unit have to carry out their education within mainstream schooling, which is not suitable for very many of them, and means their needs are not met.”
Senator Colette Kelleher called on TDs to support the amendment to the admissions bill, adding she will propose the amendment if it has not been added before the bill reaches the Seanad.
The Department of Education said there has been significant progress in developing special classes, increasing from 548 in 2011 to 1,153. “Of the 1,153 classes available some 127 are ASD early intervention classes, 525 are primary ASD classes and 237 are post-primary ASD classes.”
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