I propose to take Questions Nos. 302 to 305, inclusive, together.
The Deputy will be aware that my Department's 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. This facilitates access to individualised education programmes, fully qualified professional teachers who may draw from a range of autism-specific interventions, including Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), Treatment and Education of Autistic Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) and Picture Exchange Communications System (PECS).
The Deputy will also be aware that each child's identified needs should determine the teaching approach and methodology that is to be used. As children differ significantly from one another and as children's needs vary and change over time, it is not possible to impose a method or approach that will work for all children with autism. The research evidence is clear that no matter what exclusive approach is followed, its success is limited. Different approaches have been applied successfully with different children, and each approach has been shown to have limitations. This is why my Department does not establish schools to follow an exclusive approach including ABA.
My Department funded an ABA pilot scheme between 1999 and 2010. The participating centres were not closed, rather all 13 of them applied to my Department for recognition as special schools. Irish Autism Action (IAA) represented the centres in the lengthy discussions with my officials which resulted in the schools being granted recognition in 2010. The schools, all of which employ staff with ABA qualifications, currently operate in line with my Department's policy.
The Deputy may be aware of the Middletown Centre for Autism which is an initiative jointly funded between my Department and the Department of Education in Northern Ireland. The Centre is aimed at supporting the promotion of excellence in the development and harmonisation of education and allied services to children and young people with autistic spectrum disorders. The Centre provides parenting classes nationwide and I have recently committed to expanding the centre to increase the successful parenting programme.
My Department's child centred policy is based on advice received from NEPS, the Inspectorate and the report of the Irish Task Force on Autism and takes full account of advice from a range of experts on autism, including persons with expertise and qualifications in ABA. Advice was sought from international experts on research provided by the IAA and other research on educational interventions for children with autistic spectrum disorders and the advice concluded that research does not support the exclusive usage of ABA or indeed the exclusive use of any other approach, as a basis for national educational provision for children with autism. It is for this reason that my Department's preferred policy is for a child centred approach where the approach to be taken is based on the individual child's needs. My Department remains willing to review and consider any further research as and when it becomes available and my officials are conscious of the need to adapt existing policies and to develop new policies as new research or learning becomes available.
The National Council for Special Education has a formal role under Section 20.1(j) of EPSEN to advise the Minister 'in relation to any matter relating to the education of children and others with disabilities'. I have now requested the NCSE to prepare Policy Advice on the Educational Provision for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. A feature of the preparation of this impartial advice will involve NCSE consulting widely with parents, professionals and other stakeholders and interested parties.
The NCSE have commissioned research which will not be finalised until mid to late 2014 and I expect that this research will inform much of the work in preparing the policy advice. Accordingly it is not expected that the report will be finalised until early 2015.