Parents distraught as teaching assistance for autistic students is cut

PARENTS of over 100 children with autism have been informed by schools this week that their teaching assistance hours are being cut — on the orders of the National Council for Special Education.

Autism support services around the country have accused the council and the Department of Education of “gross hypocrisy” and of deliberately informing parents after the Dáil went on summer recess. They say the children badly need the extra help.

According to the Irish Progressive Association for Autism (IPAA), children from Dublin, Limerick, Kerry, Cork and Waterford have been told in recent days that their special needs assistant (SNA) hours in mainstream schools were being halved in some cases.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education yesterday denied they were arbitrarily cutting special needs support and said they dealt with each case individually.

“We look at the needs of each child and a child may need less hours if they have had a lot of support the previous year. There is no blanket cutting of hours as there is a huge budget in this area,” she said.

According to the IPAA, they are receiving dozens of calls from distraught parents who say that educational psychologists have argued that their children have much greater needs than are being provided for at present. Psychologists have also contacted the society directly, questioning the wisdom of cutting back on services.

“The calls started as a trickle and now there are floods of angry parents. Already we know that a great many schools have a tiny number of SNAs who are looking after far too many children. We have also been contacted about plans to cut back the numbers of SNAS in some schools next year when need is growing not reducing. Resources are being stretched too far just so it can appear that more children are getting help,” said Mr Kennedy.

“We are seeing more gross hypocrisy from the Government. The services that are needed just aren’t being put in place despite all this talk about investing in special needs.”

The Disability Bill was introduced by this Government in 2004 and was aimed at improving services for the intellectually disabled and those with autism. In the December budget that year, 900 million was allocated to capital and revenue funding in the disability sector from 2006 to 2009.

The Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill, published the year previous, recognised the equal right of children with disabilities to a full education. It also allowed parents to go to the courts in pursuit of a proper education for their children.

Funding was not ring-fenced however and was at the discretion of the Minister for Finance.

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