Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism Charity: We are deeply disturbed by the allegations of abuse in an ETB post-primary school, including allegations involving the emotional and physical abuse of Autistic and neurodivergent young people. Without prejudice to the investigation, it is important to note that the alleged incidents concerning the use of restraint, a lack of respect for sensory accommodations and an inappropriate and discriminatory application of the Code of Behaviour are all too common within our community. The fact that such incidents may have taken place suggests a system which has neglected to enact any guidelines on the use of seclusion and restraint, or to put in place the appropriate mandatory training for school staff.
In this first instance, all children have a fundamental right to feel and be safe, particularly in school and it is vital that the Children First National Guidelines are robustly implemented to protect all children and young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable to mistreatment or abuse. The allegations may also point to a cultural issue within our education system where by accessibility requirements for students concerning self regulation or sensory processing that may result in students being overwhelmed and create the potential for emotional overwhelm, meltdown or shutdown. Students continue to be undermined by an ableist Codes of Behaviour, often overseen by Boards of Management with no training or expertise in the needs and experiences of our community.
We call on Minister Madigan to urgently provide clarity on the timeline for the long overdue publication of both neuro-affirmative guidelines and the associated training of school employees on the use of restraint in school that focus on effective communication, prevention and de-escalation of distressing or crisis situations. All too often situations of real concern are not addressed in a timely manner due to an antiquated and bureaucratic schools complaints process which does not prioritise the human rights of students concerned.