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The following outlines the findings from a survey undertaken by AsIAm in 2019 which uncovered significant rates of school absence and withdrawal within the autism community.

Executive Summary & Key Findings 
We commissioned two surveys among stakeholders right across school communities in the country on the topic of School Absence and Withdrawal. In doing so, we aimed to compile an informed picture of the situation facing autistic students of all ages and their families on a national  level. The first survey sought to explore the issues involved with securing a school place for an autistic pupil, ranging from their age group and current enrolment to what were the main obstacles encountered whilst applying for a place.

The second survey concerned itself with expulsions and extended absences, examining the complications arising for families whose children were experiencing  complications in their educational and personal development. Among its questions, the survey inquired what the main reasons for pupils’ exclusion were, their families’ engagement with their local Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENO) and  whether or not the families were receiving support from social services. Stakeholders identified and engaged with throughout the process were chiefly composed of autistic pupils themselves and their family members.
We found that: 

  • 54% of those families seeking a school placement said that their children were  due to enrol at a primary school;
  • 48% said that a mainstream school with an autism class was the  recommended setting for their autistic child’s education;
  • 35% said that they had applied to anywhere between four and seven different  schools whilst seeking a place for their child;
  • 54% felt that a lack of school places was the biggest barrier for their child in  accessing education, supported by a further 18% saying that their chief  obstacle was a lack of nearby schools or classes in their local catchment areas;
  • 80% of respondents who were seeking a school place reported engaging with  their local SENO to 20% who had not; for those whose child(ren) were expelled  or experiencing exclusion, this gap considerably narrowed, with 56% and 44%  reporting engagement and a lack of engagement with their SENO  respectively;
  • A range of varying school attendance rates were reported, with 17% of families  saying that their child attends school on a reduced timetable contrasting with  13% who reported as long as three years’ worth of absence from school for  their child;
  • 54% of those families whose child(ren) were experiencing exclusion or  extended absences from school were secondary school-aged, compared to  41% at primary level;
  • 91% of respondents whose child(re) were experiencing exclusion or extended  absence from school said they were presently receiving no support from Tusla;
  • 66% reported that anxiety was the main reason why their child(ren) were  experiencing exclusion or an extended absence from school, followed by 52%  who believed that a lack of knowledge and understanding of autism was their  main reason, as well as 34% who cited inadequate supports currently available  in schools.

The report can be read in full below or downloaded here

In 2019, AsIAm submitted a detailed policy submission outlining our views on facilitating greater inclusion within Irish schools. It looked at whether we should continue providing special schools and classes for autistic students, or if an accelerated push towards full inclusion into mainstream settings would be in their best interests.

Ireland’s ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2018 (UNCRPD), a document which includes the state’s obligation to “ensure an inclusive education system at all levels” for citizens living with disabilities.

AsIAm wishes for every school to work towards being inclusive of all children children. We believe that special classes and schools present a more inclusive option for some children, for whom mainstream settings have not been resourced to support.

The Education for Persons with Special Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 legally protects autistic children’s right to be supported and included in mainstream schools. Indeed, a large proportion of our community are educated alongside their neurotypical classmates. 

Major gaps continue to persist however, in terms of getting school places, timely needs assessments and appropriate teacher training.

To learn more about AsIAm’s proposals for inclusive education, download the report here or read it below.

Families during COVID-19

A survey conducted by three of the leading disability advocacy organisations in the State: Inclusion Ireland, Down Syndrome Ireland and AsIAm, has found that whilst children with additional needs are benefiting from the return to school, there have been new challenges, particularly around accessing support and being included in schools.

Parents surveyed, reported that many young people attending special classes were not receiving opportunities to participate in mainstream, owing to social distancing requirements, or had been placed on reduced timetables.

382 answered the survey which ran across the three organisations’ websites and social media platforms. Amongst the key findings, parents reported that:

•    41% stated their child needs more SNA support;
•    30% said that reintegrating into regular routines and school settings is their biggest challenge since return;
•    33% of remain unsatisfied with their children’s present educational provision, and;
•    79% of respondents to our survey stated that children would need in-school support to continue their learning, in the event of future school closures.

•   Huge majority of parents want school provision for those with additional needs in the event of another lockdown

For the report in its entirety click here

Ireland’s National Autism Charity calls for Special Education Reform through Review and Implementation of EPSEN Act

Developing and delivering a truly inclusive education system is one of AsIAm’s core aims as Ireland’s national autism charity.

We’ve made huge strides in recent decades towards this goal in Ireland and passing the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act in 2004 was a milestone on this journey. It set out a comprehensive set of supports for autistic pupils and their families, as well as important mechanisms of vindicating these entitlements.

Over fifteen years on however, despite EPSEN being a positive step for special education reform, many of the Act’s key provisions remain uncommented. These include:

  Granting Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and their regular review a statutory basis.

  Schools’ designations.

  Establishing a formal Special Appeals Board for assessments.

In April 2021, AsIAm appeared before a roundtable hearing of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science on the EPSEN Act’s future. There, we set out our analysis of the current state of play around special education’s provision for our community’s young people, as well as our proposals for how to vindicate their constitutional rights.

You can read our submission to the Joint Committee here surmising why we believe EPSEN needs reformed and implemented.

Check here for more information on education rights and autism

AsIAm welcomes the opportunity to contribute to developing the next iteration of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education. It is our ambition that this new strategy broadens its scope to proactively address the many barriers to accessing third level opportunities for an often-overlooked cohort of the student population.

As Ireland’s national autism charity, our organisation has consistently campaigned for greater, tailored supports for autistic students studying at both further and higher levels of education, as well as building greater awareness of autism as a spectrum condition amongst institutions’ academic and support staff; our Autism-Friendly Universities Programme is AsIAm’s flagship project in this regard.

As a whole-of-life condition, it is only appropriate that equally wide-ranging and tailored assistance is given to prospective students on the autism spectrum. Significant investment into the Plan from its first interaction in 2015 has generated a solid foundation for the Department to develop a wide-ranging framework going forward. 

In our submission to the Department of Further and Higher Education’s public consultation, AsIAm has outlined our proposals of how we envisage the next National Plan might provide opportunities and tailored supports for autistic students – not only make the most of their individual potential, but also enable them to realise their dreams and ambitions as full and equal members of society. The submission can be read in full here.

Key Recommendations:

   Include autistic people as an explicit cohort within targeted under-represented groups as a subcategory of students with disabilities within the next National Access Plan for 2022–2026.

   Initiate a formal data collection programme on autistic learners enrolled in higher education institutions to build a comprehensive picture of these students’ diverse profiles and inform future policy decisions.

   Implement a pilot autism training scheme with a sample of academic and support staff from institutes across Ireland, with a view to extending such training to all staff in the short to medium-term.

•   Streamline colleges’ and universities’ Disability Services support continuums into a uniform suite of comprehensive resources, so that autistic students around the country can avail of supports without discrepancy.

   Invest additional resources into providing remote learning supports for autistic students, specifically around greater access to assistive technology, upgrading students’ digital skills, and improving remote accessibility of college services to part-time/flexible learners.

   Remove the means-test requirement for families seeking to access the SUSI Grant for all students with disabilities and people who experience educational disadvantage, including autistic students.

AsIAm hopes the proposed reforms to the Leaving Certificate take steps to proactively and inclusively address the barriers to education that many autistic students experience, which can range from negative experiences at school, to unmet educational support needs, to added stress and anxiety around the examinations and assessment process. As Ireland’s National Autism Charity, we have observed the Leaving Certificate and its emphasis on rote learning has been a huge barrier for our community. 

Even without the enormous anxiety produced by students hoping to reach their desired points, the format of the exams often fail to grasp the unique strengths and differences in autistic students. We hope that as the Senior Cycle considers how state examinations ought to be conducted moving forward, that they consider adopting a flexible approach suited to neurodiverse learning styles. To read our submission in its entirety, read the document below or download it here. 

AsIAm is delighted to partake in the Department of Education’s review on the current School Transport Scheme. The School Transport Scheme is a program that many members of the autism community avail of and therefore we welcome the opportunity to make comment on this review.

Our submission touches on issues such as accessing transport hours from the SENO, the sensory impact of transport and the often overlooked role of the parent or guardian the decision making process. Our submission can be read in its entirety below or downloaded here

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