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'I hope the candidates are listening': Anger in Firhouse as parents plead for more autism supports

Firhouse Educate Together National School held a public meeting with several politicians in attendance.

Tuesday's public meeting at Firhouse Educate Together National School.
Tuesday's public meeting at Firhouse Educate Together National School.
Image: Rónán Duffy/TheJournal.ie

ABOUT 150 PARENTS and teachers vented their frustration at local politicians during a public meeting at a school in Firhouse in Dublin during which they pleaded for more autism supports.

Firhouse Educate Together National School was the venue for the mid-election campaign meeting which saw teachers say that children were being put in unsuitable environments because the required services are not available.

Parents of autistic children, as well as parents of neurotypical children, also spoke during the meeting. 

There are 288 children in the school, 77 of whom are in mainstream classes and require additional needs.

There are between two and eight children with complex additional needs in each class and there are seven special needs assistants (SNAs) in the entire school. 

Parents say that the lack of resources means that children can sometimes be put on shorter days or that classes can be disrupted when autistic children are in difficulty.

“At the moment an SNA might be shared between a couple of classrooms, so if you have a child who is very upset and in the middle of a meltdown in classroom number one, the SNA could be in classroom number two,” Niamh Neville told TheJournal.ie.

So you’ve the teacher then dealing with 20-something children, one that is having a meltdown, and five or six other children on the autistic spectrum who may be sensory, not able to cope with the noise and the sounds, or who may have ADHD and are full of energy can’t sit still. So really it’s after getting very chaotic in our classrooms.  

Neville is the mother of a boy in the school who has autism and she says there is an “acute shortage” of SNAs for the children who need them. 

This week’s public meeting also heard from the school’s principal Collette Dunne, acting deputy principal Heather O’Doherty and chairperson of the school board Francis Fullen.

Each said the number of special needs assistants (SNAs), or inclusion support assistants (ISAs) as they are also known, is inadequate for their needs. 

O’Doherty said that what is currently on offer is vastly short of what is required.  

“Children are being forced into environments that are not suitable to them, and are not helping them. The allocation that we can give them is not enough, the allocation in other schools is not enough,” she said. 

“We have children that we’ve had to put on shortened days in this school. That’s putting huge stress and pressure on our families and we are at the coal face of it.

We are looking at those parents who are pleading with us, what are they going to do with their child, they have to go to work.

“We have children in this school who are afraid to come to school, that their class is going to be evacuated again for the fourth time this week, because there’s a child in their class who can’t cope anymore,” O’Doherty added.  

20200128_211014 Pictures on the wall in the school hall. Source: Rónán Duffy/TheJournal.ie

Dáil deputies Colm Brophy (FG), Paul Murphy (Sol-PBP), John Lahart (FF) and Seán Crowe (SF) were among those present at the meeting and spoke individually to parents after the public meeting.

Election candidates Carly Bailey (Soc Dems) and Sandra Fay (Sol-PBP) did so too and also stood up to speak during the meeting.  

Bailey said that she has two children in the school, including one who has autism, and that the response to the “crisis” has been too slow.

“This is something that has been on the radar of politicians for years, I don’t accept that this is now something that they’ve learned about,” she said.

Every single day we are hearing from people in very similar situations, every single day TDs across the country are receiving calls or getting on visits to their clinics from parents who are in dire straights and they don’t know where to turn.

Another parent Des Kenny, who said he has two children with autism, also said that the response from government to the problem has been too slow.

“I hope the candidates for the next election are listening to the anger in the room. I hope that the outgoing government are also listening intently because there’s a real edge of anger in the room, some arrived late but I’m sure you’ll catch up,” Kenny said.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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