Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 April 2021

National Autism Empowerment Strategy: Motion [Private Members]


6:30 pm

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I fully support the motion tabled by the Labour Party and commend the party on so doing. It deals with a very important issue that I expect has been raised with every Deputy.

I want to highlight a number of school-based issues affecting children with autism. Many children diagnosed with autism are given a place in an ASD unit or special class only to find that the person teaching them is a mainstream teacher and does not have a qualification in special educational needs, SEN. Some of those teachers will do additional courses to help them meet the needs of the children in the unit. Frequently, however, by the time they have completed the courses, they are moved into mainstream classroom teaching and replaced by a different teacher who, again, is not qualified in SEN, and the process begins again. In the meantime, the children are not being educated. I have been informed that, in certain schools, teachers are told that if they teach for two years in the ASD unit, they will thereafter be guaranteed a permanent job in mainstream education. That is totally disgraceful. No one should be allowed to teach a special class or in an ASD unit unless he or she is fully and properly qualified in SEN.

I was contacted recently by a constituent who has three children with autism, all of whom are enrolled in a school approximately 30 minutes' drive from their house. At the time her eldest child was ready to start school, there was no placement in a special class or unit anywhere nearer to the home. Transport to the school is provided for her two eldest children. However, when she applied for a ticket for her youngest child, she was told he does not qualify because he is not attending the nearest suitable school. Is this parent expected to send her children to different schools, which would mean different buses having to take them there? How does that make any sense, common or financial?

I have discussed the home tuition provision with tutors, many of whom have master's and higher qualifications in autism studies. However, they are given only temporary Teaching Council numbers and the council insists they must undertake and obtain further qualifications to be eligible for a permanent number. The people I spoke to are highly qualified in their area. Will the Teaching Council include qualifications in autism studies in its criteria for getting a council number? Anybody with a degree can obtain a teaching number on a temporary basis and give home tuition to a student with additional needs. That is extremely concerning and the sector needs to be regulated.

Another issue of concern is that students have been expelled from special schools because of behavioural issues. Moreover, they have been expelled without their school seeking the advice or intervention of a behavioural analyst to deal with the issues and allow the child to continue his or her education. Will the Department of Education start to fund and employ behavioural analysts to work with staff and children in schools where there are behavioural issues?


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