Parents of autistic son return to court for appeal

A WICKLOW family returns to the Four Courts this morning to appeal a 2007 decision against their claim for state support for specialist teaching for their autistic son.

The High Court ruled Cian and Yvonne O Cuanacháin’s son Seán was entitled to speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and other services from the health authorities. But it rejected the major part of their case for the Department of Education to support his ongoing education through the applied behavioural analysis (ABA) method, which had already helped him to progress in his social and communication skills, as well as addressing his severely challenging behaviour.

Since then, while he is registered in a special school near his home in Co Wicklow, his parents have continued to have him taught in an ABA class – but the department wants him to learn with other autistic pupils in a setting that uses other teaching methods as well.

The O Cuanacháins spent 68 days in the High Court during the hearing of the case in 2006 and face a significant six-figure legal bill after costs were awarded against them. They are also appealing a costs ruling in the case listed for hearing today and tomorrow before five judges of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Mr Justice John Murray.

Yvonne Uí Cuanacháin said, while they will not be required to give evidence in the appeal, the trauma of the original High Court case has been coming back to haunt them.

“I’m sick just at the thought of having to back into the court but there’s so much riding on it for Seán,” she said.

“It’s hard not to juxtapose his case against everything else that has gone on in the country over the last few years, seeing his case dragged through the courts while very little is done to others who have damaged the country,” Ms Uí Cuanacháin said.

Although 10-year-old Seán has had a full-time special needs assistant (SNA) in his school at Barnacoyle, he will have to share that support with other pupils after the summer following a recent review of SNAs nationally.

The O Cuanacháins are also angry the ABA unit where Seán is taught has not been included in talks nearing completion between the Department of Education and Autism Ireland to fund 13 former ABA schools which will be required to use the other teaching methods.

The agreement is being finalised under a deal secured by the Green Party in the 2007 Programme for Government to support the ABA schools, despite department policy that insists autistic children should be taught using a number of other methods that deal with more than behaviour.

Ms Uí Cuanacháin said there was international research to show ABA helps address more than just behavioural issues but it was not considered by the Department of Education.

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