This is the fourth or fifth time I have raised issues related to the incidence of autism with various Ministers in the Chamber. I do not know whether the incidence of autism in Ireland is increasing or simply if there is a better, more detailed diagnosis. This is a significant issue for parents throughout the country. At its heart is how the education of children with autism spectrum disorder, ASD, is progressed in order that they can maximise their potential. There is a complete lack of a clear career path for teachers, many of whom train at their own expense by taking courses to deal with children with autism. There is no recognition of such training as a specific stream in education. Whenever I have raised this issue, the Minister for Education and Skills has passed my questions to the Teaching Council which is locked into a tight model in which it only recognises four streams of teaching: primary, secondary, Montessori and other, and further education. It is a rigid structure. The Minister is washing his hands of the issue. There is no mention of children with autism or particular special needs. There is an intense need. In my constituency there is a relatively high number of schools, especially at primary level but increasingly at second level, in which children are in ASD classes. There is also broad agreement to develop an ASD-specific school in Dublin 15, Dublin 7 and Dublin West because of the numbers of children who are effectively in part-time education and, in some cases, not receiving education at all. Even the Taoiseach has agreed that there is need for special provision.
With regard to ASD classes, if teachers are taken out of the general primary teaching stream and received no specific training, notwithstanding their intense commitment to the children involved, it may not produce the best outcome for the children.
As a society we are all in the process of learning about this area. We need to work out how we facilitate appropriate training for people who are going to take up positions as teachers in ASD classes or in ASD specific schools. It is for the Minister for Education and Skills to provide leadership in respect of the Teaching Council. I can understand that when the Teaching Council was established, this may have been an area which did not receive any particular attention. That happens all the time. Now that we know that this is an issue, we need to address how we are going to provide for recognition for people who have trained in the ASD area and how to provide the most appropriate and best education for children who have autism and ASD issues.