Deaf children held back by fund gap

The principal of the first preschool for hearing impaired children has said deaf children are been held back from fully integrating with the rest of society.

Maria Allen, of the Mid-West Preschool for Hearing Impaired Children — set up 10 years ago on a voluntary basis — said it is vital preschools become state-funded so that they can continue to give specialist one-on-one language training to the children.

“These children are not getting their full entitlements to preschool education because what we do is specialist,” said Ms Allen. “If they were put into a mainstream preschool, they would not get the specialist early intervention in understanding language that we provide.

“There isn’t even a course in Ireland where you can go to learn the specialist training you need to teach deaf children, because the funding for it was cut.

“There was a course in UCD years ago. If you want to teach deaf children you have to go to Birmingham in England.”

Ms Allen said that parents of hearing-impaired toddlers were spending thousands on transport costs travelling to the preschool in Rosbrien, Limerick City, which last year catered for seven children from Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, Kilkenny, and Cork.

The only other full time pre-school for the deaf is in Cabra.

Ms Allen said that continually having to find funds to run her preschool was becoming increasingly difficult, especially since people’s attitudes to charity had changed following recent pay scandals.

“The majority of our funding for the pre-school comes from fundraising. It costs about €26,000 to keep it open,” she said.

Ms Allen said the same priority given to state- funded national and secondary deaf schools should be provided to deaf preschools.

“We’ve applied for [funding] for years and it’s just not done. There is no [government-sanctioned] preschool for the deaf,” she said.

“It is vital we get State funding. It is vital for language acquisition.

“In the long run, it will make things better for [mainstream] schools as well as the children because we can see the benefits of it, of children coming into us and then going on to mainstream schools. That’s very good for the Government because they will save money in the long run.”

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