Autistic children risk being ostracised - campaigners

Youngsters forced out of education due to lack of supports, says Irish Autism Action

Children with autism are at risk of being ostracised by their peers or being forced out of education because of a lack of behavioural supports in schools, campaigners have said ahead of World Autism Day.

Kevin Whelan, chief executive of Irish Autism Action, said children were being expelled from schools because of behavioural problems linked to autism and it was left to their parents to try to find another school place without any support from the State.

“I have encountered a child of six being excluded from school under health and safety.

“You are being told your child is a failure at six, whereas there should be the capacity to support. There should be something in between placements not running smoothly and expulsion.”

The charity also highlighted the need for interventions to help children with autism develop friendships from pre-school upwards which would help with their integration.

Peer group

“If they access their peer group at an early age, that significantly reduces the risk of bullying in later years because children learn to understand it’s okay to be different and it’s okay to have a friend who is different.”

Mr Whelan was speaking in the wake of an alleged case in Co Cork where a boy with autism was forced to swallow twigs and expose himself for a video apparently posted by schoolchildren on Facebook.

Another support group, the Shine Centre for Autism in Cork, has launched a new app designed to teach young people with autism the social skills they need to negotiate relationships in school.

Laura Prowley of Shine said children with autism had a greater difficulty differentiating between a friend "and someone doing something to get a laugh out of them".

The social skills app, designed to be used by children with their teachers, parents or caregivers, can be found at

Information programme

To help children integrate from the youngest age possible, Irish Autism Action has developed a training and information programme with Early Childhood Ireland, the representative body for pre-schools, aimed at ensuring childcare workers feel “confident” in dealing with any behavioural issues.

The charity is now seeking to roll out a quality assurance badge for pre-schools which are “autism friendly”.

The group also runs a behavioural support programme for children who are expelled from school, aimed at returning them to education as quickly as possible.

Mr Whelan said the charity received “not even one cent” from the Departments of Health or Education for this programme.

“The frustration is we can do so much more if we had the resources,” he said.

A report on the provision of special needs education published by the ESRI earlier this week highlighted the problem children with autism have in assimilating in schools.

Just 62 per cent of children with autistic spectrum disorders were found to have engaged in some form of play or recreation with friends in the four-week period of the survey.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column