The Mayo action group fighting for a dedicated school for autistic children have strongly criticised the Department of Education’s attitude towards schools of this type.
This comes just a week after a mystery donor offered the Mayo Autism Action Group a site on which to build the special school in the village of Knock.
The group met with Mayo County Manager Des Mahon on Monday and were told that the site in Knock is a 1.5-acre piece of land on a ten-acre site, and not all ten acres were donated, contrary to the impression given at last week’s meeting of Mayo County Council when the surprise offer was revealed.
Crossmolina businessman Enda Hiney, chairperson of the action group, said that ‘we are more than happy with 1.5 acres, but our problem is to try and get the Department of Education to recognise the school we are looking for, which is an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) school’.
He added: “We have good news on the one hand with the offer of the land for the school, but we are not happy with the Department of Education’s attitude towards ABA schools. There are a number of ABA schools getting funds from the Department for some years, but they are still called pilot projects, and they also have to raise funds for their occupational and speech therapists.
“The Minister for Education Mary Hanafin has not visited one of these schools. We believe she has it in her head to incorporate ABA within the existing national school system. But we don’t think that’s enough.
“An ABA school has an occupational therapist and a speech therapist on site all the time. In the national school system, you are lucky if you get to meet the speech therapist once a month.
“We find the Department very stuck in their ways. They don’t want to change.”
In a Dáil reply to a question tabled by Dr Jerry Cowley, TD, last week, Ms Hanafin said: “My officials requested that the names and the psychological assessments of the children proposing to attend the centre should be forwarded to the Department in order to progress the application further. My Department is currently awaiting this information.”
Meanwhile, despite intensive speculation in the Knock and east Mayo areas, the identity of the donor of the site remains a mystery. It is believed to be on the Ballyhaunis Road. The action group expect to be introduced to the owners inside the next week.
Mr Hiney’s group say that half the children who attend ABA schools can later enter mainstream education, but that to put these children into mainstream education first is ‘putting the cart before the horse’.