An unidentified Knock woman has come to the rescue of Mayo families with autistic children by donating a ten-acre site for a special school – and the dramatic development was yesterday welcomed by the chairperson of the lobby group fighting for improved facilities.
The news of the unsolicited donation of the site was relayed to Monday’s meeting of Mayo County Council during a debate on the need for better educational opportunities for children with autism.
“It was an amazing development. We were sitting at the meeting where Cllr Michelle Mulherin had tabled a motion calling on the Council to provide a site for an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) school, when County Manager Des Mahon stunned us all with the letter he read out,” said Crossmolina man Enda Hiney, chairperson of the Mayo Autism Action Group.
So great was the level of surprise when Mr Mahon read out the letter from the mystery donor offering the ten-acre site that the chamber erupted into applause. “Public life is very rewarding when things like this happen and you get to see the better side of human nature,” said Cllr Mulherin.
The exact location of the ten acres in Knock has not yet been announced, but Mr Mahon is to meet with Mr Hiney and his committee in the near future and it is expected the identity of the donor will then be revealed.
“It’s amazing the power of the media,” said Mr Mahon, before he read out the letter in which the woman said she had heard about the plight of the families on MWR-fm.
She wrote: “My heart went out to them all. I can’t imagine the challenges facing parents of children with special needs. I would like to donate ten acres in the holy town of Knock.”
The autism lobby group recently shot to national prominence when DJ Johnny Oosten climbed Croagh Patrick on seven consecutive days, and the publicity blitz accompanying that event brought about yesterday’s unexpected development.
Said Mr Hiney: “It is great news for us. We can do great things with ten acres, and this might have come at a very appropriate time for us with the General Election just around the corner. We are extremely grateful to the woman who donated the land and we look forward to advancing the project.”
There are six ABA schools in Ireland and it has been proven that half the children who attend ABA schools can later enter mainstream education.
“At the moment, the Department of Education is trying to put children with autism straight into mainstream education, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. It should be that they attend an ABA first and then perhaps go into mainstream education if they are suitable,” added Mr Hiney.
The meeting heard that one Ballina-based family is contemplating a move to County Carlow because of the lack of educational facilities in Mayo.