The Irish Progressive Association for Autism (IPAA) said dozens of families in Cork alone have had taxi and escort services to bring their children to school cut since last autumn.
While the service has been restored in some cases, other families are being given a paid mileage allowance by the Department of Education to drive the children to school themselves.
However, IPAA chairman Kieran Kennedy says this raises other problems. “Both parents in most families are working and some parents are considering giving up work. Because there are so few special schools, having to bring a child many miles to school every morning before driving to work is not worth the hassle,” he said.
“We are dealing with more than 30 families who are having problems and I have no doubt it’s a problem nationally.”
He said the school transport system for children with special needs was bordering on chaotic and expressed concern about Education Minister Noel Dempsey’s proposed spending review.
“The number of children diagnosed with autism is going to more than double in the next five years, so it’s more money that is needed, not less,” he said.
Mr Dempsey told the Dáil last week that his department was finalising a review of the school transport system, with a view to identifying savings. However, a spokesperson for the minister said the review was not just on special needs transport and is considering other issues apart from costs.
The Department of Education will spend over €111 million on school transport this year, up from €97.5 million in 2003. However, there is no breakdown of how much of that amount is spent on transport for children with disabilities.
Mr Kennedy said the numbers availing of special needs transport have risen to 1,700, from around 1,000 children last year.
Fine Gael deputy education spokesperson David Stanton said problems with transport for children with disabilities mirror those in general special needs education issues.
“Parents of these children are under fierce pressure to organise transport because they no longer have use of bus or taxi services, and this is also affecting pupils themselves,” he said.
“The department is obviously under-resourced, because there is a huge backlog of children whose applications for resource teachers and special needs assistants are lodged since last summer,” said Mr Stanton.