The urgent need to provide Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD ) classes within local school settings is the predominant focus of Autism Parents Athlone, who will host a protest march in the town on Saturday afternoon to enhance public awareness of their collective cause.
Commencing at 2pm from Ss Peter & Paul Church, the protest walk will following the one way system (the Orange Loop ) and is certain to gain much support, autism and the present education concerns, being a topic of much discourse in recent times.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, Claire Earley, who formed the Autism Parents Athlone group, noted her desire to heighten public awareness of the issue, education being paramount to the development of children with autism.
“Autism Parents Athlone was formed in April of this year and to date, we have in excess of 200 members on our Facebook group. Our aim is to improve autism services in Athlone and its immediate environs with a particular focus on education requirements at a local level,” Ms Earley asserted.
The mother of an autistic child, Claire has vast concern with regard to the lack of ASD classes at many primary and secondary schools in Athlone, noting the urgent need to address this issue.
“My daughter, Sophia (8 ) attends Summerhill National School and is in a position to avail of the ASD class on site, but in the main, the lack of similar facilities within numerous schools in Athlone is extremely disappointing.
Continued on page 2
“There are three main secondary schools in Athlone with no ASD classes on site, so those children on the spectrum who complete their primary school journey are forced to avail of secondary level education in alternative settings, many having to travel long distances to do so. THis should not be the case,” Ms Earley remarked.
The lack of ASD classes, in particular for secondary school students, has been raised in Dáil Éireann, but Ms Earley noted that there appears to be no “substance” to the Minister’s promisies pertaining to the issue.
“The issue was highlighted by Minister of State, Deputy Josefa Madigan, in recent times, but as of now, I am not aware of any new ASD classes being provided to assist our education cause here in Athlone and with the Dáil due to break for summer recess in due course, I would be majorly concerned that the issue will not be resolved prior to the start of the academic year in September.
“There are parents within our group who are extremely frustrated and angered at the lack of progress on this issue, one which needs resolution imminently,” Ms Early commented.
Speaking of her own family experience, Ms Earley stated that her daughter, one of seven children, regressed during the pandemic due to isolation and the lack of routine which an education setting can enhance, but since her return to Summerhill National School, Sophia is making progress in familiar surroundings.
“If this issue remains unresolved prior to the start of the new academic year, we are willing to unite as a group and protest our cause outside the primary and secondary schools in Athlone. Hopefully, this situation will not arise, but such are our strong and determined feelings on this issue, such a scenario may unfold,” Ms Earley continued.
Referencing the protest walk on Saturday, Ms Earley stated that there is “power in numbers” and called upon the community to support their public awareness cause.
“We are hoping that the local community will turn out in large numbers to support our cause on Saturday. This is a real issue effecting so many children with autism needs.
“Uniting the community for a common goal will certainly enhance our desire to have new ASD classes implemented in the primary and secondary schools of our town,” Ms Earley concluded.