A shortage with regard to the provision of autism units in local post primary schools is a matter for serious concern and must be addressed with immediate effect, Cathaoirleach, Westmeath County Council, Cllr Frankie Keena, has asserted.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, the Fianna Fáil councillor, implored post primary schools within Athlone and its immediate environs to take relevant action and provide such an autism unit on site for those students who are in need of the service.
“The absence of autism units within the post primary school environment in the Athlone area is simply not acceptable and must be urgently addressed.
“The fact that there are presently eight students on the waiting list for such places in the Athlone area is incomprehensible and therefore it is incumbent on all local secondary schools to take immediate action and provide a unit in their campus.
“If schools are unsure of the ongoing demand it is very easy conduct a relevant needs analysis by linking in with the various primary schools who provide autism units for their students,” Cllr Keena commented.
Cllr Keena, who is also chairperson of the Athlone Community College board of management, stated that the need for an autism unit within this school has been identified and he has also raised this matter with the Longford Westmeath Educational Training Board.
“One of the initial steps for the provision of such a unit is for the National Council for Special Education (NCSE ) to consider the request which involves school visits, assessments and consultation and I am delighted to confirm that the NCSE has now approved the provision of same for Athlone Community College
“Unfortunately, this particular process has yet to positively conclude as it is now with the Department of Education Building Section for consideration.
“In this particular instance, it is so important that a favourable decision is made as soon as possible as I am very aware that September is fast approaching and parents and students need clarity and reassurance prior to the start of a new academic year,” Cllr Keena concluded.
Cllr Keena’s comments have received due support in recent times with local Independent Deputy Denis Naughten noting that the lack of autism units within Athlone and South Roscommon secondary schools “forcing students to journey up to 100 kilometres daily to avail of an education”.
“Presently, there are only three primary schools and just one second level school providing autism specific classes in the wider Athlone area, which is insufficient to meet current needs and this must be urgently addressed by the Minister for Education.”
“The primary schools with ASD classes are St Paul’s in Lyster Street and St Joseph’s NS, Summerhill, on the Connacht side of the town, with Coosan NS on the Leinster side of Athlone providing such an education service for students. Meanwhile, at secondary school level the only school providing an ASD class is Coláiste Chiaráin, Summerhill.
“There are 57 primary school pupils in local autism classes in Athlone and South Roscommon and despite demand for more places, no new class is being planned for this September.
“Travelling this distance to avail of a such an education is completely unacceptable, especially when one considers that the Government is reducing the journey which third level students are expected to travel each day to just 60km from 90km per day,” Deputy Naughten remarked.