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Special Educational Needs: ASD Units

Yesterday, 16/06/22 Francis raised with Minister for Special Education Josepha Madigan the lack of ASD units in his constituency and the supports needed by organisations like SparkAbility and groups like Tallaght Autism Support Group to sustain their projects


From what I have seen I feel the State is failing, has failed many of these people and their families, at least in my constituency. We are a first world wealthy country and we are not meeting our obligations under the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities which recognises the “right of persons with disabilities to education”.

In my own constituency of Dublin South-West, there are 21 primary schools with 1-2 ASD units - which accommodate 6 students per class, and only 3 post-primary schools with ASD classes. My question and the question worried parents have is where are these children expected to go once they complete their primary education? For many of these families, they’re not afforded the opportunity to pick a school wherever they like or in their catchment area, so it’s already profoundly difficult to find a place for their children.

Minister, I believe the Department needs to prioritise a solution and process to ensure every single child in this state will be provided with an opportunity to their right to an education. We cannot have our most vulnerable children in this state denied their right to education. And we shouldn’t put the onus on the families to provide home tuition simply because finding a place for their child in school has become impossible.

I understand you intend on invoking section 37a to ensure mainstream schools provide the necessary ASD classes. Families and schools would be grateful if your Department provided clarity on how these schools will be supported with the funding required for facilities, equipment, staffing and other resources they need to appropriately set up these classes. Schools are not maliciously resisting the idea of ASD units, but rather it’s a matter of not having the capacity or support to provide the classes, from what I have seen some are on their knees financially.

There are schools in my constituency that have buildings close to collapsing, they’re unable to secure grants for retrofitting because the building is too unstable. Therefore to ask these schools to put their already limited funding towards an ASD class and staffing instead of repairing the roof to ensure the safety of their students is unrealistic

Finally Minister, I recently met with SparkAbility and have been in contact with other groups like Tallaght Parents Autism Support Group, who are fantastic organisations that provide valuable services to people with disabilities, mainly autism. They offer support to families and give people with autism the opportunity to grow, flourish and be connected with the community. Essentially, they’re providing a service the state should be doing, without state remuneration. Their funding relies solely on nominal fees and they have no permanent venue. We need to ensure organisations like SparkAbility are given the security and stability to continue these services to ensure that no child or person with disabilities falls through the cracks.

Minister, I would be very grateful to you if you could afford some of your time to meet the SparkAbility team and hear their proposals. They have a fantastic model of care that could be used nationwide to help families and children. I will write to you with their details

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