My Department's policy is that all children with Special Educational Needs, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), can have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in school settings through the primary and post primary school network.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) policy advice on Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (2016) found that students are generally well supported in schools with appropriate curriculum; extensive teacher and SNA supports; improving range of educational placements supported by improved accommodation and equipment; improved teacher knowledge and understanding and a generally good standard of provision at primary and post primary levels.
The greater proportion of children with ASD attend mainstream class, where they may access additional supports if required.
Special class placements are provided in mainstream schools for students with ASD and more complex needs, where it has been demonstrated that he/she is unable to learn effectively in a mainstream class for most or all of the school day even with appropriate supports.
Special school placements are provided for other students with ASD and very complex special needs who wouldn’t manage in a mainstream school even for part of the week.
Special classes for students with ASD are staffed with a lower pupil–teacher ratio of 6:1 at primary level and 6:1.5 at post primary level, and also have a minimum of two SNAs for every class of 6 children.
The NCSE found, however, that there was confusion in the system about the purpose and role of special classes for students with ASD. Some schools appeared to believe such classes are resourced only to cater for the more able students with ASD. Some schools had restrictive enrolment practices or policies which effectively excluded students – even in special classes – unless they were able to follow academic programmes and be included in mainstream classes for at least part of the week.
The NCSE pointed out that special classes are resourced to cater for the needs of all students with special educational needs who require to spend most or all of their week in a special setting. They are not resourced exclusively to support either students who are more able or those with more complex needs. It would therefore not be appropriate to refer to these classes as ‘low functioning units’ or ‘high functioning units’.
The NCSE advised that only those students with ASD with more complex needs and who are unable to access the curriculum in a mainstream class should be supported in special classes in post-primary. More able students with ASD (i.e. those who can access the curriculum in a mainstream class for most all of the day/week) should be supported in post-primary schools through resourced mainstream provision, i.e. through the SET model and with access to SNA support as required. There can be exceptions as some students with ASD may find it difficult to manage full-time placement in mainstream classes although academically able to access the curriculum there and these students may require support through the special class model for some of their day/week.
Some students with ASD who are able to attend mainstream classes will experience associated symptoms such as anxiety. When planning educational support for these students, it is important to consider the role that mainstream and special education teachers can play in their education and in assisting them to be included in school.
Other resources which are provided to schools to support children with Special Educational Needs including Autism include the following:
- The National Educational Psychological Service
- Assistive technology
- Access to the Special School transport scheme
- Access to special equipment and furniture where required
- Enhanced capitation grants at primary level
- Adapted school buildings
- ICT Grant for new classes
- Start Up grant for new classes
- Access to the extended school year scheme. (July Provision)
The NCSE has published guidelines for schools on setting up and organising Special Classes, which are available to download from www.ncse.ie. The guidelines include information on resources which may be provided to schools with special classes and links to information on the how funding is allocated.
In conclusion, a continuum of provision is provided in mainstream schools which should be operated in a flexible manner, to meet the wide range and diversity of student needs that present in these schools.