Parents of boy with autism seek meeting with Cowen on his education


THE PARENTS of a eight-year-old boy with autism, who was at the centre of a landmark legal action last year, are seeking a meeting with the Taoiseach to ensure their child does not lose his specialist education.

Cian and Yvonne Ó Cuanacháin say their son, Seán, is at real risk of having his Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) schooling discontinued and fear he will regress significantly if provided with a less intensive form of schooling.

The couple says they were previously promised a meeting with former taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the weeks leading up to the 2007 general election, when their case became a major political issue.

However, the meeting was subsequently cancelled in the weeks after Mr Ahern's re-election.

"We were very encouraged when we were offered a meeting with Bertie Ahern's programme manager to brief him on the specifics of Seán's case. We were told that if Fianna Fáil was to be returned to government, the taoiseach himself would meet with us," she said."Unfortunately, that commitment which gave us such hope that we could make a case for Seán, wasn't fulfilled."

The former taoiseach's programme manager Gerry Hickey told The Irish Timesearlier this year that such a meeting was never finalised.

Last January the High Court ruled that the Ó Cuanacháins were not entitled to costs in the case which was heard over the course of seven months. The overall cost of the case was estimated at €5 million. The court had earlier ruled that the State's educational provision for Seán was adequate and there was no obligation on the State to provide him with ABA.

His parents have appealed the High Court decision to the Supreme Court.

Ms Ó Cuanacháin said that as well as the growing doubt over her son's education, the legal costs issue had yet to be resolved.

"Our home is under threat as we will have to discharge the legal costs. We also have the stress of the upcoming Supreme Court appeal," she said.

"As of now we have no option but to pursue this appeal to try to secure Seán's specialist provision. A meeting with the Taoiseach just might bring the focus back on Seán's immediate needs, as opposed to on any Supreme Court appeal. That was what we hoped when we tried to meet Bertie Ahern last year.

"We're anxious to look to the future and work collaboratively with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education to bring about a solution."

She said the Department of Education accepted in court that Seán had benefited tremendously from ABA. "Our choice is for him to continue with ABA. We remain seriously concerned about his immediate future should that ABA schooling be removed prematurely," she said.