Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education & Skills Thomas Byrne TD has expressed concern over the severe shortage of special classes available for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Deputy Byrne is working on an amendment to the Education (Admissions to Schools) Bill, which is set to come before the Dáil at the end of January.  The amendment would ensure that all children with special needs have access to a special class, if that is what is required for the individual child.

Deputy Byrne said, “We need a far greater sense of urgency on this issue from the Minister Bruton and his officials.

“The shortage of ASD classes is reaching crisis point and many children with autism are already being denied their right to be educated in a mainstream school.  The problem is particularly acute at second level.  There is a responsibility on every school to provide these special classes where they are needed, and not leave it to a small number to cater for the needs of children with autism.

“There is a serious shortage of special ASD classes at post-primary level, with fewer than half (45%) the number of classes available at primary level. Overall there are 548 ASD classes at primary and just 237 at post-primary. There is also a severe shortage of ASD classes at pre-school level, with only 127 classes available throughout the country.

“Special classes within mainstream schools are intended for children who, because of their level of Special Educational Needs, cannot reasonably be educated in a mainstream class setting, but who can still attend their local school in a special class with a lower pupil–teacher ratio.

“However, these classes are simply not available in many areas of the country and, as a result; children with ASD may not be able to attend mainstream secondary school with their peers in their local area.

“One reason this situation has arisen is because of the complete absence of demographic planning for this issue by the Department over the last number of years.  Questions need to be answered about why ministers seem to have put their heads in the sand during the very period that there was a massive increase in the number of children with an ASD diagnosis.

“Minister Bruton’s only response has been to outlaw the so-called ‘soft barriers’ being used against children with special needs during school admissions in new legislation. However, this action will be totally insufficient to deal with the scale of this problem.

“Children with ASD are being failed by the State and a much greater sense of urgency is required to ensure these children can have access to a school place, which best suits their needs and will see their full potential realised”.