Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Richard Bruton

Question:

206 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the sources of information, advice, assessment and back up which are available to parents of children in the autistic spectrum in Dublin 9 and 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10874/03]

The sources of information, advice, assessment and back up that may be available to parents of children in the autistic spectrum who are under the age of four and over 18 years of age are a matter for the local health authority.

My Department provides or funds the following facilities for the education of children with autism nationally: seven special pre-schools; 53 special classes in special schools and 62 special classes in ordinary national schools, including three special classes for children with Asperger's syndrome. Seven facilities that use an applied behavioural analysis approach to education are operating on a pilot project basis. A significant amount of the above provision is in the greater Dublin area. Details will be available on my Department's website, www.education.ie, shortly. The national educational psychological service, NEPS, provides an educational psychology service to schools in the State, including those in Dublin 9 and 15. NEPS may be contacted at Frederick Court, 24-27 North Frederick Street, Dublin 1.

In addition to providing for the ongoing development of special educational needs services, I am taking steps to ensure that the necessary arrangements are put in place for a more efficient and effective system for service delivery to special needs children. A key development in this regard has been the decision to establish the national council for special education. The council, which will have a local area presence, will play a key role in the development and delivery of services for persons with special educational needs. It will also have a research and advisory role and will establish expert groups to address particular areas of special needs provision. A consultative forum will be established by the council to facilitate inputs from the education partners and other interested parties. Arrangements for the establishment of the council are now well advanced. A chief executive has been appointed to the council and it is intended that the body will be vested shortly.

I also intend to bring forward legislation, based on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill, to clarify the rights and entitlements of persons with disabilities to an education service and to put in place the necessary framework to deliver the required services. My Department has consulted widely with interested parties on the pro posed legislation. My objective would be to secure the passage of this legislation through the Oireachtas at the earliest possible date.
In April last year, my predecessor and the then Minister of Education in Northern Ireland announced the establishment of the first all island centre of excellence for children with autistic spectrum disorders. The centre is to be established at the former St. Joseph's Training School at Middletown, County Armagh. Proposals for the centre envisage the following: a diagnostic support and educational assessment service for children and young people referred to the centre with a suspected or confirmed autistic spectrum disorder; a training and advisory service for parents, teachers and other professionals; an individual learning centre; an autism research, dissemination and information service; residential accommodation with care staff. The centre may in time be asked to broaden its remit beyond the area of autism and will be a resource available to the whole Island, including Dublin 9 and 15.