Parents of autistic twins ‘thrilled’ school places are finally secured

‘Why has it taken all these years to sort out?’ asks Gillian Milne after campaign for appropriate service

The parents of 11-year-old twin boys with autism who were repeatedly denied appropriate school places for their children over several years have said they are “thrilled” places have been found for them following the intervention of Government ministers and a public apology from the Taoiseach.

However, Gillian and Darren Milne expressed concern it had taken so long to resolve the issue and questioned why they had to make high profile pleas for support across media channels – including most recently an RTÉ Prime Time report – before anything could be done for them.

The Milne family had repeatedly called on the State to help them find school places for their children Ryan and Kyle who are non-verbal and have additional special needs. However they were told on multiple occasions that there were no places in their area as all the special schools were oversubscribed.

Speaking on RTÉ Six One, Micheál Martin said what happened to the Milne family was “not good enough”, and the Government was putting extra resources in place for new special schools and more capacity in existing such schools.

He added there would be a review of legislation to ensure that every school was open to catering for children with special needs. “It can’t just be certain schools all the time responding to the needs.”

Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan met the Milnes on Friday morning and confirmed places would be found in a suitable special school from September.

According to a spokesman for Ms Madigan, the Minister emphasised her desire to do everything in her power to increase the number of special school and special class places for children with special educational needs.

The spokesman said it would include the issuing of binding Section 37a notices to establish additional classes for children with special needs. The Minister is to announce further details of this next week.

Ms Milne said: “We are thrilled for the boys. It doesn’t feel real. If it was that simple, why has it taken all these years to sort out? But we are so happy for Ryan and Kyle.”

While Mr Milne said he was delighted with the outcome, he noted that the family had to tell their story twice before it came to pass.

“We had to open up our family story twice on Prime Time to get this result. It’s terrible that these are the lengths that we had to go to so secure a school place for our boys because they have special needs,” he said.

“Our end goal was to get an appropriate school place that matches the boys’ needs and we have achieved that. Hopefully that opens the doors for all the other kids with special needs to get places in the appropriate settings for their needs.”

On Wednesday, Mr Martin apologised to the Milne family in the Dáil and admitted that the State had failed them.

The couple first appeared on the programme in 2019 when the twins were aged eight.

Speaking during leaders’ questions, Labour leader Ivana Bacik said accessing school places for children with autism is “a countrywide issue”. She said the Milne family had “fought year after year” for their twin sons Ryan and Kyle to get access to appropriate places in a special school.

In response, the Taoiseach said he had watched the programme and that the State’s response was not adequate.

“The State has failed the Milne family and Ryan and Kyle in particular, in terms of providing a proper comprehensive education for those children that would be appropriate to their needs,” he said.

“I apologise to the Milne family on behalf of the Government because it simply isn’t good enough. I don’t stand over this I think there’s an absence of proactivity in the system. I think the people I spoke to today are all possessed with getting this right.”