There may be countries in the world where it is more difficult to be born with autism, but there are few in Western Europe, or indeed the developed world, that are worse than Ireland. Until the recent past Ireland enjoyed a period of economic prosperity unrivaled in any country. Zero unemployment, monumental levels of development, a financial surplus in the government coffers year after year, with the result that little was spent in any thoughtful way on the education of children and adolescents with autism. There is an absolute disinterest on the part of Ireland’s politicians to care about people with autism.
Over the past twelve years nearly one hundred or more people were compelled to take cases before the High Court to try and get an appropriate education for their autistic children. The result of these cases was a near universal agreement on the part of the government to make promises about extra classes, teachers, and related services. In large part most of these promises have gone unfulfilled. It is not just the case that the government doesn’t care; it doesn’t care one way or the other.
After losing so many cases in the courts the Department of Education and Science established a number of special classes for children with autism in primary schools. These classes, more than ten years later still lack even the most basic provision of appropriate services such as fully trained teachers, access to speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, behaviour specialists, psychologists, and trained classroom assistants. Only a handful of the many classes established have these services and the current budget cuts make it likely that those having them will lose them in the next year or two.
Children and adolescents with autism who are being educated in these classes in primary schools find it nearly impossible to enroll in a secondary school in Ireland. Most secondary schools will not accept them. Those secondary schools with special units for autism manage to exclude more than 80% of students seeking enrollment. There is wide-scale bias when assessing children with autism which results in statements being made to the effect they have very low levels of intelligence when anyone knowing these children realises their intelligence is much higher.
The entire situation is shocking and parents are left to fight for entitlements which are written in a variety of “guidelines” having absolutely no legal backing. The law does not protect these children, the government does not protect these children. Who will protect them and see they get a proper education in Ireland?