Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Questions (156)

Dessie Ellis


159 Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to improve services to autistic children and their families in the Ballymun area of Dublin. [34907/12]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Skills)

The Deputy will be aware of the Government's ongoing commitment to ensuring that all children with special educational needs, including those with autism, can have access to an education appropriate to their needs preferably in school settings through the primary and post primary school network. This facilitates access to individualised education programmes, fully qualified professional teachers, special needs assistants and the appropriate school curriculum.

Many children with autism are fully integrated into mainstream classes. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) provides additional resource teaching hours and special needs assistant support to schools in respect of fully integrated enrolled students with autism.

Some students with autism require further support in school. The establishment of a network of autism-specific special classes in schools across the country to cater for these children with autism has been a key educational priority in recent years. My Department supports provision in mainstream schools, some 540 special classes for autism attached to mainstream and special schools and 18 special schools for children with autism throughout the State which cater for the educational needs of over 5,000 children with autism. These figures include 101 classes for autism in Co. Dublin. The NCSE will continue to establish more classes as required.

Children in these classes benefit from having a reduced pupil-teacher ratio of 6:1. Class teachers are required to be fully-qualified and have access through the Special Education Support Service to training in a range of autism-specific interventions, including Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA), the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). A minimum of 2 special needs assistants are provided for each class. Other special needs assistant posts may be allocated in line with the needs of the enrolled children. These students have the option, where appropriate, of full or partial integration and interaction with other pupils. Funding is also provided for assistive technology and specialist equipment as required and special school transport arrangements may also be put in place.

My Department's home tuition scheme provides a grant to parents to facilitate the provision of education at home for children who, for a number of reasons such as chronic illness, are unable to attend school. The scheme was extended in recent years to facilitate tuition for children with special educational needs awaiting an educational placement and provide early education intervention for pre-school children who have been assessed as having autism. The grant provides for ten hours' home tuition per week for each child with autism aged between 2.5 and 3 years of age.

The Deputy will be aware that the NCSE is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), for processing applications from primary, special and post primary schools for special needs supports on the basis of applications in respect of individual pupils. The SENOs operate within the policy outlined in my Department's circulars for allocating such support.

Each SENO works in an assigned local area with parents, schools, teachers, psychologists, health professionals and other staff who are involved in the provision of services in that area for children with special educational needs. All schools have contact details of their local SENO. It is also open to parents to contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs.