Unit for autistic children in danger of closing

A UNIT for autistic children is in danger of closing just six months after it opened because the Department of Education has failed to sanction a permanent teaching post.

Special needs teacher Dee Hogan was employed on a temporary full-time basis to run the unit at Boher National School, Ballina, Co Tipperary, when it opened last December.

However, because her position is not permanent, Ms Hogan has been forced to consider alternative job offers. School principal, Úna Kennedy, said if Ms Hogan leaves, the unit will close.

“Dee is the unit. She has fantastic skills and the children have made enormous strides, beyond anyone’s dreams, since she set up the unit. Without her, it cannot be a success.”

Ms Hogan devises IEPs (individual education programmes) on a daily basis for each of the three children in her care. The programme includes sensory integration to help overcome neurological developmental delays - such as helping a child who has poor motor control skills to hold a pen or to focus properly on a page. Speech and language therapy takes place and individually tailored swimming programmes improve low muscle tone. A letter written by the parents of one of Ms Hogan’s charges to the Department of Education, supporting her cause, says that of the many programmes they have tried to improve their child’s life, none have been as effective as that run by Ms Hogan.

Chairperson of the Irish Progressive Association for Autism, Kieran Kennedy, has also written to Education Minister Noel Dempsey asking that he make a special case for Ms Hogan “as one of the best qualified teachers I have come across concerning special needs in this country”.

Mr Kennedy said it would be “bordering on negligence” for the minister to allow the unit - which is sanctioned to cater for six autistic children, and, as the only one in Tipperary, has a waiting list - to close by failing to sanction a permanent post. He said a proposal had been submitted to the department requesting that Ms Hogan be employed in a consultant role, with a roll-over contract. This was acceptable to her and would overcome the difficulty of her not having a Bachelor of Education degree.

Local senator Noel Coonon criticised Tipperary North’s Defence Minister Michael Smith and Deputy Máire Hoctor for failing to sort out accommodation needs for both mainstream and special needs pupils at the school.

Minister Smith accused Senator Coonon of political opportunism, saying he was doing everything he could to ensure Ms Hogan’s re-appointment. A department spokesperson said the school was on this year’s building programme. She also said they would be in contact with the school shortly in relation to Ms Hogan.

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