New proposals from the Department of Education will drastically undermine the education of children with autism in Ireland’s specialist Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) schools according to concerned parents and ABA tutors.
Applied Behaviour Analysis is widely recognised as an extremely effective form of teaching and therapy in assisting autistic children with their education and development, with the American Academy of Pediatrics reporting that, “children who receive early intensive behavioural treatment have been shown to make substantial, sustained gains in IQ, language, academic performance, and adaptive behaviour as well as some measures of social behaviour.”
Under the new plans, existing ABA schools will face significant changes to their structures, turning the schools into broader special-needs schools abolishing their current ABA-led and autism-specific structures, despite the fact that the Department has not made any formal evaluation of ABA teaching at any of the 13 schools nationwide since 2002.
If the Department’s proposals go ahead, the current ABA tutors will be replaced by standard primary school teachers, many of whom who will not be equipped to deal with children with autism. While tutors will be given the option to become Special Needs Assistants (SNAs), they will be unable to teach and will become SNAs for all pupils and not just those with autism and it’s likely that there will a job losses at a certain point. This will completely undermine the one-to-one approach that is necessary for ABA.
These changes will limit the opportunities and potential that children with autism can have when they are given the necessary support and assistance. Other pupils can also potentially have their learning experience undermined if teachers and SNAs are unable to provide adequate support to all children in the classroom, as is likely to be the case if ABA students are “mainstreamed” into larger classes. As it stands, our special-needs system is already understaffed and underfunded.
The Department has ridden roughshod over the opinions and concerns of parents and staff. While the Boards of Management of 12 of the schools have accepted the Department’s “offer”, to the opposition of parents and staff, it has been made very clear that refusal would jeopardise the continued funding and existence of the schools.
This is a blatant attack on one of the most vulnerable sections of society. Instead of cutting back on education funding, we need massive investment to reduce pupil/teacher ratios, to provide an adequate number of SNAs as well as investment in speciality teaching like ABA to deal with increasing number of child being diagnosed with disorders like autism.