'Autistic children like Abigail (5) an afterthought for Government'

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For Mark and Claire Cahill, hearing the news that their daughter had finally secured a place in a nearby school with a designated autism unit was the answer to all their prayers.

Parents to four young children, the couple living in Raheny, Dublin, have spent years battling to get adequate resources for their eldest child Abigail (5), who has autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and a speech delay.

She had been flourishing in a “fantastic” pre-school in Donnycarney and last March they heard she got a precious primary school place in a six-pupil classroom.

Then lockdown happened, and the youngster started regressing.

“In just 11 or 12 weeks, I’d say she has regressed a full year in that short period of time,” Mr Cahill said.

“She thrives on schedules and routine and that routine is completely gone, so she is struggling.

“There’s a lot of support from her school. There’s a weekly call with them and the teachers have dropped in books and that’s all very positive.

“But it is affecting her, absolutely. She misses the interactions. The meltdowns have become more severe and a lot of that is just frustration.

“She is struggling and the concern is that when she goes back to school in September, all the progress she had made will be gone.”

Like many children, she doesn’t understand the concept of social distancing, so they have barely brought her out since lockdown began eight weeks ago. It could also prove an issue when she takes up her school place.

“If she sees the playground, for example, she’ll want to go in and can’t understand why she can’t right now, so that could prompt a meltdown. She also runs away a lot,” he said.

She mainly plays by herself in the back garden and will spend hours bouncing around on the trampoline while her three younger brothers play around her.

Mr Cahill has been disappointed that the plight facing children with special education needs during lockdown has not been raised more at Government level.

He also wants clarification from Education Minister Joe McHugh on how the July Provision – which allows for up to 20 hours of extra tuition – will be implemented.

And Mr Cahill feels more urgent action is needed to help children like Abigail before the next school term starts.

“The sooner we can start getting some tutoring or some one-on-one help for her, the better. She is struggling but I’m not really surprised at the lack of response, children like her were always an after-thought for this Government.”

Irish Independent

Source: Irish News