Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Taoiseach supports bid to have autistic boy enrolled for new term

By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

A MOTHER who has spent four months trying to find a school in which to enrol her autistic son is hopeful that the support of Taoiseach Brian Cowen will help her case in time for him to begin classes in September.

Casey Naughton was expelled from his local school in Daingean, Co Offaly, because staff were not equipped to deal with his behaviour that sometimes disrupted classes. The nine-year-old has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism which sometimes cause outbursts and tempers.

But despite his mother Lisa’s attempts to enrol him in more than 20 schools to date, none has accepted Casey for next year. She brought her frustration to Tullamore on Friday, where Mr Cowen was opening a new social welfare office, along with Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin, who was Education Minister until two months ago.

"They brought me in for a private meeting of about 40 minutes and the Taoiseach was very understanding of my situation as a family man," she said.

"They couldn’t make a specific commitment that I would find a school to take Casey but they said they would try to do something for me in the five weeks left before schools open," said Ms Naughton.

She has written to Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe a number of times about the situation since he took office in early May but said that she has not had any response. "I am a bit more hopeful now that I know the head of the Government might be able to push some buttons, but it shouldn’t take bringing a placard to an official function to be making progress. If schools were properly resourced to deal with kids like Casey, there would be no problem," she said.

Ms Naughton has been supported by the National Educational Welfare Board in bringing appeals against a number of schools which have refused to enrol her son. The latest appeal is due to be heard by the Department of Education next week, with a number of other refusals due to be the subject of appeal hearings in the coming weeks.

"It was upsetting for Casey being with me last week when I bought a new uniform for his brother because he’s wondering if he’s ever going back to school himself. And then he worries if he’ll make friends at any new school he does finally get into," she said.

Ms Naughton said children like Casey who are relatively high-functioning are not suited to dedicated autism units attached to some primary schools, but mainstream schools are not given enough resources to help teach them. Casey had been receiving home tuition between being expelled in February and the end of June but his mother had to borrow the €4,500 cost, as reported by the Irish Examiner last week, with the reimbursement from the Department of Education only being completed last Friday.

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