Parents of autistic children face fresh home tutor headache

A TIGHTENING of the rules under a home tuition scheme for autistic children puts the onus on parents to find fully qualified teachers, narrowing the range of graduates they can choose from.

In the past, arts, social science or psychology graduates, along with registered mental health nurses (RNMH), qualified under the scheme, but now the Department of Education says the qualifications are acceptable only “as an interim measure”.

The rule change has created chaos for hundreds of parents who now face being unable to secure appropriately trained teachers, according to the Irish Progressive Association for Autism (IPAA). IPAA chief executive Kieran Kennedy said the department not only expects parents to recruit fully qualified teachers, but it also expects them to prove they tried to do so.

A document outlining acceptable qualifications for home tuition providers says “the department’s preference is for a fully qualified teacher”.

This preference was not stated in its original qualification requirements, officially introduced in June 2007.

It does, however, allow a parent to employ a teacher with a qualification in autism if a fully-qualified teacher cannot be recruited.

Mr Kennedy said the change in criteria will leave hundreds of children without tutors.

“Teaching autistic children requires a very specific skill set. You are talking about non-verbal children with major behavioural problems and poor eye contact who may not be toilet trained. A fully qualified teacher without specialist training in teaching special needs children is not a suitable tutor.”

Mr Kennedy said traditionally they would have used a lot of people with psychology or social science qualifications and those working in special education considered it ludicrous that these graduates could now only be used on an interim basis.

A statement from the department defended its preference for fully qualified teachers on the basis that the tuition takes place outside of school supervision.

“It is in the interests of children to expect that home tutors, funded under this scheme, are appropriately qualified tuition providers. It is for this reason that tuition providers will be required to meet the minimum qualification standard,” the statement said.

The department said a review of a number of applications for home tuition in 2006 “highlighted some cause for concern regarding the qualifications of tuition providers”.

The home tuition scheme is available to children who are unable to attend school on a continuous basis because of illness, disability or autistic spectrum disorder and who require early educational intervention.

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