Ministers accused over autistic children as specialist schools forced to close


A SCHOOL providing specialist Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) education to children with autism has closed, despite promises from Ministers Eamon Gilmore, Ruairí Quinn and James Reilly when in opposition that they would support ABA education.

The Achieve ABA school in Donaghmede, Dublin, which has been providing such education since 2006, closed yesterday as the parents of the eight children there could no longer afford to pay for it.

It has never received direct State funding. Up to now it has been funded in part with the home tuition grants, to which some of its pupils were entitled, and through fundraising. The grant is available to children with special needs between the ages of two and five years.

The funding shortfall had grown to €100,000 a year and, said Pat McCormack, parent of Méabh (5), “that is just not sustainable”.

The ABA method involves analysing the child’s skill levels and applying intensive one-to-one teaching which breaks down whole tasks into small, achievable steps. It applies particular methods to each child’s needs.

Mr McCormack said the ABA method had been found to be superior to the “eclectic mix” model of education provided by the department to autistic children. There was a “clear demand” for ABA from parents, but due to the lack of department funding it was no longer available.

A spokesman said Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn had asked the National Council for Special Education “to work with the parents and school authorities to inform them about the facilities available for the children who previously attended Achieve”.

Mr McCormack showed a statement from Mr Quinn, still on the Labour Party website and dated February 12th, 2008, where he said: “An issue of major concern is the official recognition of Abacas schools using the ABA method of one-to-one teaching of pupils.

“The Department of Education’s refusal to recognise the merit of the ABA method has more to do with institutional rigidities and conservatism within the Civil Service than a real and open evaluation of the effectiveness of the ABA method.”

He also showed a letter he and his wife Linda received from James Reilly, now Minster for Health, in 2010, in which he wrote: “As somebody with a special interest in the area, I am appalled by the bullying tactics which could negate many of the advances made in ABA schools in the area of special needs education.”

A letter to another parent at the school is from Eamon Gilmore, now Tánaiste, dated July 2010. He wrote: “The government have refused to recognise the ABA technique in order to save money.

“Each time this Fianna Fáil- Green Party government rolls out its latest wave of cutbacks, they claim they do so with a heavy heart and that they have somehow managed to ‘protect the vulnerable’.

“Their actions speak louder than words”

The progress made by Mr McCormack’s daughter at Achieve had been “a transformation”, he said.

“I am desperately worried for her future and so angry that our children were used by this Government as political tools when they were in opposition and are now being thrown to the wind.”