“The delaying of a return to the classroom presents enormous risk for the most vulnerable young people in our country”, says National Autism Charity, AsIAm
4th January 2022: AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism Charity, has today called on the Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, to ensure that schools open as planned on Thursday 6th January, and to prioritise students with additional needs in any planning or adaptations required to achieve this.
Speaking ahead of a meeting between the Department of Education and Trade Unions to discuss re-opening, Adam Harris, Founder and CEO of AsIAm said “It is critically important that all stakeholders cooperate to ensure a timely re-opening on in-school education from Thursday. We know the impact that school closures have had on children with additional needs – with many children suffering greatly as a result of not having access to appropriate education, this was captured very effectively by Dr Conor O’Mahony in his most recent report to Government as the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection. The short term impact of this reality has been devastating on children and their families but the long-term impact of repeated closure periods is something which is even more concerning. It is unfathomable to think that people can shop in the January sales or meet a friend for a drink whilst children with additional needs remain home without access to their constitutional right to education.”
In recent days, there have been numerous calls for additional measures in schools prior to re-opening and a staggered return to school, prioritising exam classes. “Whilst we are supportive of any measure which supports school communities at this key time, the delaying of a return to the classroom presents enormous risk for the most vulnerable young people in our country. We have heard from some quarters that academic assessment should be prioritised over the needs of children with additional needs, this quite clearly is not the case when we look at how changes have been made to the Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle for the past two academic years and contrast this with the lack of support provided to children with additional needs and its consequences. Any education system worthy of the name must prioritise those who need it most in times of crisis” he concluded.
Many autistic students, and other young people with additional needs, are unable to learn remotely owing to cognitive differences, support requirements and the need for a calm, structured learning environment with highly skilled teachers and SNAs. Throughout the pandemic the impact of school closures on autistic young people has been extensively documented including in a number of publications produced by AsIAm and our partners. A government funded study in DCU (Smyth Egan Et Al)found over 63% of autistic students experienced a loss of key skills in vital areas such as self-regulation, independence and anxiety management, with an increase in young people experiencing school refusal upon re-opening.