While my Department does not provide any specific funding for sensory rooms or SNA supports, a wide range of supports is available through the access and inclusion model, AIM, to support children with disabilities to access and fully participate in the universal preschool programme, ECCE. The allocation of targeted AIM supports is based on the needs of the child and the context of the preschool setting rather than a wider diagnosis.
The Deputy specifically referred to capital funding. Level 5 of the AIM involves funding for specialised equipment appliances or small capital grants towards minor building alteration. A short report from a designated professional is required confirming that the specialised equipment or minor building alterations are necessary to allow the participation of a child in preschool.
In line with emerging best practice to support the integration and interdependence of children with a disability, AIM does not fund SNAs. Rather, AIM level 7 support provides financial support to the preschool provider where it is needed for the participation of a child. This funding is used either to reduce the adult to child ratio in the preschool room or to buy in additional assistance.
AIM also provides several training programmes for preschool practitioners, including specific training on sensory processing through the sensory processing e-learning programme, SPEL. SPEL helps practitioners understand how best to support children with sensory processing difficulties to participate fully in preschool.
In 2020, the total AIM budget was €43 million. Of this, €850,000 was allocated under level 5 and €26 million was allocated under AIM level 7, which is the additional assistance. I have been able to increase the budget in 2021. It is up to €48 million this year, of which €850,000 has been allocated under level 5. Currently, some €29.5 million is allocated under AIM level 7.