Autism waiting lists: ‘Once you get a diagnosis, it’s like going to war’

James Field is due to start school next September but is unable to get a place

Alison Field and her son James (5). She has been refused a place for her son in 10 schools in the north Dublin area. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Alison Field and her son James (5). She has been refused a place for her son in 10 schools in the north Dublin area. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

It is a legal requirement for parents to start their children in formal education by the age of six.

Yet Alison Field says she has been refused a place in 11 schools across the north Dublin area for her son James, who turns six in September and has autism.

“The law of the land only seems to apply to some children. There’s another for children with autism or learning disabilities,” she says.

James can’t talk. Alison says he’s a real character.

“He giggles, likes to mess with you. He’s very lovable and loves hugging you ... He can get stressed, though. If we’re [his parents] not around, he can end up crying or vomiting.”

When he was diagnosed, health authorities said James required a place in an autism-specific school or an autism class attached to a mainstream school.

After being refused entry to schools right across the north Dublin area, Alison was advised by her local special education needs organiser that funding would be made available for an autism class in a local mainstream school.

But when she approached the school, she says she was flatly rejected.

“There was no concern, no compassion. I was told they couldn’t do it, that teachers were working out of cupboards or corridors ... So you feel like no one cares. You’re fighting every step of the way.”

Alison has been told that home tuition will be available if he cannot get a school place.

“There’s a push to just get him home-schooled. While the Department [of Education] will fund it, you have to find a tutor, you have to source the help ... Even if he doesn’t get that, it’s not right. He needs to be in the community, to be mixing, not isolated on his own at home.”

Quiet person

Alison, a mother of two from Raheny, says that prior to having James, she was a quiet person.

“I wouldn’t have said boo to anyone ... but now I’m a fighter. Once you get a diagnosis, it’s like going to war.”

There are delays getting assessments, she says, and waiting lists to access early intervention services.

This is despite expert advice that states children benefit most with the earliest possible therapeutic input.

She’s not alone, Alison says. In the pre-school service James attends, there are four other mothers of children with autism in the same boat: none has a school place for next September.

Another mother who is an acquaintance of hers has had her school-age son at home for the past year due to a lack of autism-specific places.

“It seems like a classic case of a system that lies between a number of different departments ... and no one seems responsible for the children who fall through the cracks.”