I propose to take Questions 319 and 320 together.
I previously advised the Deputy that the NCSE developed estimates on the prevalence of special educational needs as part of its process to advise the Minister on the implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN), Act 2004.
The Council estimated at that time that up to 18% of the school going population may have a special educational need, as defined under the EPSEN Act, while a more recent NCSE Report: A Study of the Prevalence of Special Educational Needs (2011) estimates that this figure may be even higher that 18% of the pupil population.
With regard to the prevalence of children with autism in the school going population, the NCSE Implementation report, 2006, adopted 0.56% as the prevalence rate for autism. As at that time, there were no reliable studies on the prevalence of autism in Ireland, the NCSE based this on the Task Force for Autism report which recommended that "as an initial target, provision be made for services for at least 20 per 10,000 with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and for 36 per 10,000 with Asperger's Syndrome".
A later international review of the literature of best practice provision in the education of people with autistic spectrum disorder (Parsons et al, 2009) commissioned by the NCSE, found that prevalence rates vary, with some systematic studies showing prevalence rates of up to 100 per 10,000 (1%) of people with ASD.
My Department strives to ensure that a continuum of special education provision is available as required for children with special educational needs. In line with this approach the policy is to promote a child-centred approach to education of all children with special educational needs including those with autism. As each child with autism is unique they should have access to a range of different approaches to meet their individual needs.
Children with autism present with a wide range of needs. Some children are capable of being fully integrated into mainstream schools with additional teaching and/or care assistance. Many are best enrolled in autism-specific classes where more intensive and supportive interventions are required. Some may move from one setting to another as they get older and differing needs/strengths/abilities emerge.
The Deputy will be aware that the establishment of a network of autism-specific special classes in schools across the country to cater for children with autism has been a key educational priority in recent years.