Special Educational Needs: Statements (Resumed).

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 188 No. 15

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Senator Phil Prendergast: Information on Phil Prendergast Zoom on Phil Prendergast I welcome the Minister to the House. With regard to applied behaviour analysis, Richard Saffran of ABA Resources defines “applied” to mean practice rather than research or philosophy and “behaviour analysis” as “learning theory”, that is, understanding what leads to or does not lead to new skills. ABA is just as much about maintaining and using skills as about learning. It may seem odd to use the word “behaviour” when speaking about learning to walk, talk, play, and live as a complex social animal. However, to a behaviourist all of these can be taught so long as intact brain functions exist to learn and practice the skills. This is the essence of the recovery hypothesis, which is that for many children the excesses and deficits of autism result largely from a learning blockage, which can be overcome by intensive teaching.

Typically developing children learn without our intervention. The environment they are born into provides the right conditions to learn language, play, and social skills. After a few years, however, this breaks down, and we no longer learn everything naturally. For example, it takes a very structured environment for most of us to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic. Children with autism learn far less from the environment. Often, they are capable of learning but it takes an extremely structured environment where conditions are optimized for acquiring the same skills that typical children learn naturally. ABA is all about the rules for establishing the environment to enable children to learn.

Behaviour analysis dates back at least to Skinner, who performed animal experiments demonstrating the Pavlovian theory whereby Pavlov’s dog responded in a certain way. Conversely, any new behaviour an animal, you or I may try but [1126]which is never rewarded is likely to die out after a while. As common sense would have it, a behaviour that results in something unpleasant is even less likely to be repeated. These are the basics of behavioural learning theory.

ABA uses these principles to establish an environment in which our children learn as much as they can as quickly as possible. It is a science, not a philosophy. Even the “as quickly as possible” part is based on science, as evidence exists — I admit it is not conclusive — that the developmentally disordered brain learns how to learn best if the basic skills are taught in early childhood.

Behavioural learning is not the only type of learning. Most learning in schools is from an explanation or from a model, what people call natural learning. Typically, developing children learn from their environment, which includes other people, at an astounding rate completely unassisted. The point of ABA is to teach the prerequisites to make it possible for a child to learn naturally. If our children could learn without assistance in the first place they would not have autism.

The most common and distinguishing type of intervention based on applied behaviour analysis is discrete trial teaching. It is what people most often think of when one says “ABA” or “the Lovaas method”. The Lovaas model of applied behaviour analysis is a specific behavioural treatment method employed by the Lovaas Institute and other replication sites throughout the world. This model utilizes procedures from applied behaviour analysis, as do all behavioural treatment programs. These programs go by different names including ABA therapy, intensive early intervention behaviour therapy services and verbal behaviour. The specific emphasis given to various procedures in applied behaviour analysis and the way in which skills are combined to create a comprehensive intervention may vary from one behavioural treatment program to another.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White In her remarks at the outset of the debate, the Minister reminded us about the progress made in the past ten years on this issue and she is correct in this. This point is often made by Ministers in these debates and when it is the wonder for me is not the improvement made in these ten years but the slow pace of improvement. This is in light of the incredible prosperity we had during this period through the hard work of the people of Ireland and the increase of resources available to the Government for spending on vital educational and social needs. We also have now a heightened understanding of autism which we did not have in the past. The Minister mentioned this in her remarks. It is an important scientific advance on which the Minister is able to rely.

[1127]Other speakers referred to personal examples and experiences. I have had an involvement with this issue since childhood through a close member of my family. My aunt, as a parent, faced this struggle alone during a period when autism was not understood and was a mystery. In many cases no outlet existed other than psychiatric hospitals and my aunt fought a one-woman campaign to ensure her son was not confined to a psychiatric hospital. We have come a great distance since then.

I have no intention of personalising an attack on the Minister or anybody else any more than I am interested in self-congratulatory speeches from the Government. Let us move on as this type of politics does not get us anywhere.

Senators: Hear, hear.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White The reason I am perplexed about this matter is that the Minister gives the impression of a major level of disagreement, argumentation, debate, and scratching of heads among the experts. Where is the evidence of this? Will the Minister publish this for us? A leading member of the task force of 2001 stated the unbiased literature reviews and related research of the task force undoubtedly found that following the method of applied behaviour analysis was by far superior to other approaches. ABA was also consistently advocated by other bodies which had researched the same issue in New York, California and Canada. This was stated by a member of the Minister’s task force.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin Zoom on Mary Hanafin She is one of 13.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I only have three or four minutes to speak and I ask the Minister to indulge me. If the Minister believes as strongly as she appears to that ABA is one of a range of options and should not be given centre-stage, will she publish the convincing evidence she appears to have read? When she makes her argument she does so second-hand. She states all of this evidence exists. Will the Minister send it to me and allow me as a Member of this House, a parent and a citizen to compare both sets of evidence? Let me and the people of Ireland make up our minds. Let those involved in the struggle, the Ó Cuanacháins and others, make up their minds as to whether what the Minister says is true. Whereas I am not suggesting the Minister is misrepresenting the matters to the House, we as citizens and legislators have an entitlement to make up our own minds on the basis of what we read and not simply take it on the good faith of the Minister.

The Minister made unfortunate statements which may be unwittingly divisive. She claimed [1128]she is interested in the child-centred approach rather than a method-centred one.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin Zoom on Mary Hanafin That is a quote from the autism society in Northern Ireland.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White Is there a single person who does not favour a child-centred approach? Is there a single person who believes this is anything other than an attempt to do what is best for children with autism? For the Minister to make a statement like that in the cut and thrust of a debate is unnecessarily divisive. Everyone is for a child-centred approach.

Deputy Mary Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin Zoom on Mary Hanafin I clarified that it was a quote from the autism society in Northern Ireland.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White The Minister will have an opportunity to respond. I have had to listen to Easter lilies and everything else for the past two hours. I will take my last three speaking minutes.

I received a letter from the parents of an eight-year old autistic boy in Rathfarnham, Dublin. The father informed me that he could testify to the efficacy of the ABA methodology in reaching children such as his son. This is the evidence from individual experience as well as expert evidence in which I am interested.

The father also informed me that as a former research scientist, he could testify that ABA is the only remediation approach for which there is a peer-reviewed scientific basis for its effectiveness in helping such children. If this man is wrong, will the Minister tell me how he is wrong?

  1 o’clock

He continued in his letter that education in this country has been defined as the process that allows the individual to achieve their potential as a human being. ABA methods result in a large proportion of autistic children being prepared for and being able to participate in the mainstream. Those children who do not attain that level still benefit from undergoing this intensive teaching and learn better to attain some measure of control over their lives. ABA allows these people to achieve their potentials since in many cases the alternative would be them being institutionalised as they approach adulthood. He concluded it is therefore clear that even from something as coarse as a cost benefit analysis, it makes sense to make this investment in quality education of some of the weakest in our society.

What people are after is the impressive example the Minister outlined of a perceptible change in a community’s attitude towards a child. That is what the Ó Cuanacháins and everyone else involved, not just the Minister, are about.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Information on Déirdre de Búrca Zoom on Déirdre de Búrca In her speech on Private Members’ business in the Dáil on 12 February, the Minister acknowledged special [1129]needs education has undergone a transformation in the past ten years. Credit must be given to the Minister and her predecessors for putting in place the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 and providing extra resources and funding for special educational needs.

Several key issues have been highlighted in the controversy that has blown up about appropriate education for children with autism and autism spectrum disorder. There are other issues, however, that have not been addressed regarding the education of children with autism.

The first issue concerns the continuum of services. Services available to children with autism around the country are patchy, uncoordinated and deeply unsatisfactory as far as individual families and parents are concerned. There is a necessity in the special educational needs area to have appropriate preschool, primary and post-primary education services that flow on seamlessly and are age appropriate and appropriate to the developmental needs of the child.

Home tuition is available, with some struggle, for parents with children with autism. Children under three years of age are entitled to ten hours per week of home tuition. A child over three years is entitled to 20 hours home tuition. The parents must organise this for themselves. It may not always be desirable to have education occur within the family home. A choice to parents for alternative preschool education is not available.

Barnacoyle ABA preschool in County Wicklow is not funded or recognised by the Government. It exists because of the diligent fund-raising efforts of its parents and committee. It is a precarious basis on which to run a school. The parents do not know from month to month or year to year whether the school can continue.

When children from the school are considered to be ready to move on, there are no special primary education services for them in the county. Their parents, if lucky, can send their children to the nearest appropriate school which is in the Minister’s constituency of Dún Laoghaire. They also may try to get a place in St. Catherine’s special school in County Wicklow which, because it is a segregated environment, may not be an appropriate educational environment for children who have benefitted from preschool ABA input. Often they may be ready for a special unit in a mainstream primary school but that is not available in the county.

Unfortunately, when it comes to post-primary education the continuum is far from satisfactory. There are serious gaps in the services with much depending on geographical location. Parents fortunate to live in an area with a specially designated ABA school can be reassured their child will receive an appropriate and specially tailored [1130]education. For those who do not, they must do with whatever is available.

All that families with children with autism are arguing for is an acceptable continuum of services for their children. It should be the same no matter where one lives. We must work towards this. It is the responsibility of the Minister for Education and Science to ensure services are put in place so these gaps between different counties and regions disappear. Children with autism must be guaranteed the same continuum of educational services that able-bodied children are entitled to and their parents expect.

There is a dearth of research findings in the ABA approach in an Irish context. I hope the Minister will use the 12 pilot schools, for which funding has been provided for in the programme for Government, as centres of excellence. Specific research into ABA must be carried out in these centres so that we can begin to accumulate a body of evidence-based research in an Irish context of the efficacy or otherwise of the ABA approach.

I have examined international research into the ABA approach and I find it convincing.

It is peer reviewed and meets best practice in terms of research methodology. I agree with other speakers in that I have not seen research findings that support the mixed or eclectic approach. I am open to looking at them but I have not been provided with any of these results. I hope the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science will consider a presentation of the findings supporting the eclectic and ABA approaches in order that the members can make their own assessment of how convincing the research findings are.

The most important thing in terms of research is the outcome experienced by the child as a result of a particular methodology. Other speakers have mentioned the unnecessary focus on methodology as opposed to the child-centred approach. The most important aspect of any methodology is that it produces the best possible outcome for the child. Unfortunately, while these debates and arguments about methodology continue, children are going through schools and facilities in which we cannot be absolutely sure they are achieving the best possible outcome. That is why it is important that we emphasise research.

I ask that the message be communicated strongly to the Minister that this House considers it highly important that research, specifically in an Irish context in recognised ABA schools, is carried out almost immediately and that the focus is on outcomes. I have no doubt, because they have been so convincing, that parents of children who are going through this process feel the outcomes for their children are best when the ABA approach is used. If we carry out evidence-based [1131]research in schools I am sure the instincts of the parents will be borne out.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, to the House.

I do not wish to engage in a political debate or to score points.

Senator Ned O’Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan Oh?

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I come to the debate as someone who is involved in education and who has a family history of involvement with people with special needs. It is important that we highlight the fact that children with special educational needs have unique and individual requirements when it comes to education. Successive high court cases have not only vindicated the constitutional right of even the most severely and profoundly disabled to an education but have shown incontrovertibly, through the evidence presented, the benefit of education and the ability of people to respond and develop skills arising from that education.

I listened to the points made by Senator White and the Minister. Despite the availability of research from leading academics, the Department of Education and Science has been reluctant to initiate progress, instead forcing parents to the courts and only then, grudgingly, putting in place the supports required, albeit on a piecemeal basis. When the history of educational provision is written, the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children will be indicted as having failed to meet the needs not only of children with autism but also of their families. This is very important.

Following the Sinnott judgment in 2001, a task force on autism was commissioned which produced a report that ran to several hundred pages and contained numerous scientifically based conclusions and recommendations. These recommendations were not based on a hunch or on what the members thought might work but on the best available international research and empirical findings. One of the key recommendations was early diagnosis and intervention. On these two points the system has clearly failed families. In my own county of Cork, which is representative of the rest of the country, there is a two and a half year waiting list for an assessment and diagnosis of autism. For a child of five or six, a two and a half year wait is the equivalent of half of his or her life. The task force argued that the projected number of NEPS-employed psychologists with expertise on autism was grossly inadequate. Since then, the Department has failed to increase the number of NEPS psychologists to the full projected number of 220, although it promised this would be achieved eight years ago. Today there are approximately 150 NEPS psychologists, even [1132]though the school population has increased significantly in the past number of years.

Families in this situation have told me that once the diagnosis is made, the next challenge is to find the appropriate services to try to remediate the condition.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Absolutely.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer This week we heard about the case of a school in Dublin which has a facility for a special class for autistic children but lacks the necessary therapeutic staff to allow it to open. The Minister is wrong to say it should open anyway and provide an education to the children. This clearly indicates that the Minister — thus the Government — is approaching the issue with a very narrow idea of what constitutes an effective and meaningful education for persons with special needs or autism.

I ask the Minister to consider the way in which the Government has responded to the Ó Cuanacháin case and others. We all agree that the available education should be child-centred. I ask the Minister to publish the relevant documentation, as alluded to by Senator Alex White, in order that we can have a debate in an open and transparent manner. Education for persons with special needs must be viewed in a holistic context of academic and educational development, as pointed out by Senator Healy Eames. Education for many children with special needs is not about acquisition of the three Rs but the development of essential life skills, such as communication, self-care, and leisure and recreation skills, that enable them to participate in society in a meaningful way. In a recent statement in The Irish Times, Dr. Honan, one of the authors of the report of the task force on autism, criticised the Minister’s stance regarding ABA.

Our concept of education must change. The traditional concept of education and traditional teaching methods might not be the best fit for some of these children. As mentioned by Senator Healy Eames, it is necessary to think outside the box when it comes to different approaches to education for children with special needs. Let us have a debate on the ABA method and on other methods such as TEACCH, PECS and Lovaas. The most important point of all is to focus in on the benefits to children. We must come up with a combination of approaches, because it is not a case of one size fits all.

The concepts of choice and respect for choice are important from the point of view of parents, providers and Government. The views of parents and professionals need to be listened to by the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children, but they have not been so far. We need to listen. Why do we send people to the courts? What have we got to fear in the Ó[1133]Cuanacháin case? We must listen, as political representatives, as parents, as educationalists. We need a collaborative approach between parents, schools and the Department. Let us have that. We need to move away from going to the courts and putting people——

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Under pressure.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I thank the Senator.

Legislative advances have done little to inspire confidence among parents in the ability of the Department of Education and Science to meet the needs of children with autism or other special educational needs and their parents. The Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act and the Disability Act have not received uniform support or endorsement from the disability sector. Too much of the potential impact of these Acts has been watered down, as the provision of services is not seen as a right or an entitlement but rather a service predicated on the availability of resources. Under the assessment of need process for 0 to 5 year olds introduced in June 2005, there is no link between the identification of need and the meeting of that need. This flies in the face of recognising the importance of early and appropriately matched intervention.

The Minister spoke earlier about listening. I ask that this debate be listened to. We need to make significant progress in this area. I hope we will see progress as a result of today’s debate.

Senator Ned O’Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Seán Haughey, to the Chamber. I assure him of an especially warm welcome when he comes to Listowel next week to attend a very important educational function.

As the concluding speaker on the Government side of the House, much of what I would like to have said has been said more than eloquently by previous speakers. I compliment all the Senators who have contributed because we have had a good and meaningful debate during which everyone gave a good and honest opinion. The debate here has been in marked contrast to the debate that has taken place elsewhere, both in the other House and the media. Our Minister and the Department have been subjected to unfair and ill-informed criticism. If one listened closely to the Minister in the House today, one would have discovered that she did not say that she knows all the answers. Nobody has all the answers but she is addressing this question and trying to bring it forward in a way that will be beneficial ultimately to the child with learning difficulties. That is what we all subscribe to.

The statistics over the past ten years are staggering. The fact that €900 million has been dedi[1134]cated to special needs teaching this year, along with 19,000 staff members, is staggering as well. The speakers on the Opposition side have been gracious enough to acknowledge this. I take issue with Senator Alex White, however, who feels that the level and speed of progress has been somewhat tardy. I was a teacher for 20 years in the 1970s and 1980s at both primary and secondary level. I witnessed at first hand the significant improvements that have taken place.

A member of my family had a daughter who was highly intelligent but had special learning difficulties. There was no service in the education system at the time for my niece. Her parents were forced to move and live at different times in London and the US to ensure she was given the education she needed and was entitled to. Luckily, they had the resources to do this but many people in Ireland did not and the service, as Senator Alex White noted, was very inadequate.

We have moved on from that to a stage where we are getting there. As Senator Ormonde said, we have not arrived but we are getting closer all the time. In my home town of Listowel, which is not large, more than a dozen special education teachers provide specialist services of one sort or another. The Department and Minister had the vision to fund a special school, the Nano Nagle special national school, which is a significant teaching resource for Kerry and Limerick. It is a state-of-the-art facility. The improvements are there and must be acknowledged.

I will not go into the ins and outs of whether applied behavioural analysis is the answer at this hour. Like everyone else, I have tried to read about and address it. If one wishes to see all the various viewpoints, one need only look up a few webpages on the Internet. For every view that ABA is the way forward, there are views that say “yes but” or “yes maybe”. I know it is the first choice of parents to have their children integrated into the mainstream as much as possible.

I pay tribute to the teachers of Ireland, particularly primary school teachers and members of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, for the outstanding service they have provided. A statement this morning from John Carr, the general secretary of the INTO, refuted some criticisms levelled at the INTO position on autism. I refer all Members to this statement because it is eminently sensible. There is no substitute for a good teacher who is not able to do everything but who will not be beaten when it comes to doing what is best for a student. Naturally, they need special skills, back-up and all the resources for which we are looking.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Absolutely.

[1135]Senator Ned O’Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan We cannot underestimate the power and wisdom of an individual teacher.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames We cannot kill them either.

Senator Ned O’Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan That is the reason parents in the main want to see their children integrated into the mainstream with their peers as much as possible.

I regret that this court case took place. Naturally, our hearts go out to the family concerned. However, we must be reasonable about this. That court case was not initiated by the Minister or Department. The parents had a choice in this. The Department had no option but to defend the case and would have failed in its duty to taxpayers if it had done anything else. That the judgment made it quite clear that the Minister and Department had not failed in their duty has not been made in the House today and should be reiterated.

The Minister restated in the House today that where ABA is the appropriate and necessary procedure or intervention, the child will get it. That point resonates with me.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan I wish to share time with Senator Twomey. I will take four minutes and I believe Senator Twomey will also take four minutes.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As someone who has spent a considerable time in recent years talking to people in the north east, I am very aware of the prevalence and level of autism in society. As many people know, we are in the middle of a baby boom so it is clear the incidence of autism will rise. It is very important therefore that we find ways of putting facilities in place to allow children to be educated.

There are many difficulties to be faced in respect of children with autism. One is getting assessed in the first instance. I spoke this morning to parents in Laytown who told me they had been told in a letter from the Department a few months ago that they must find National Educational Psychological Service people to carry out assessments. There are issues in respect of getting a diagnosis in the first instance.

With a diagnosis in place, it is often very difficult to access the services that are needed. The problem is especially acute in terms of education and applied behavioural analysis schools. ABA has been shown to be the most effective programme for dealing with autism. We are lucky in the north east in that we have a school in Drogheda which caters for children from east [1136]Meath, Laytown, south Louth and beyond. I look forward to going to its annual fund-raising ball this Saturday night and speaking to many of the parents involved in the school.

Like other ABA schools, Drogheda has been a victim of its own success. It has a significant waiting list, with more than 60 children waiting to get into the school because it is so renowned and the services it offers are so good. Like other ABA schools in Ireland, the school faces issues in respect of funding and finding permanent sites for the school. Its staff face issues in respect of getting their qualifications recognised. All these problems could be dealt with very quickly by the Minister.

I know the Minister is meeting party colleagues in early March to discuss autism so I ask her to consider seriously the position in respect of ABA schools at that meeting. In respect of the Ó Cuanacháin case, flexibility has been shown in the past in respect of legal costs. Owing to the service the Ó Cuanacháins have performed in raising awareness of autism, the Minister seriously should consider waiving the fees.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Hear, hear.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey I thank Senator Hannigan for sharing his time with me. Throughout this row, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Science have said the issue is not funding but providing the most appropriate education for children. That is blatantly untrue because this is a row about resources and whether it is the parents, the State or a combination of both who decide a child’s education. Who decides on a child’s education? Is it the parent, the State or a combination of both? It is clear throughout this debate that the State — the Minister and the Taoiseach — decides on the education a child will receive.

In my constituency of County Wexford there are excellent schools in Coolcots, Wexford town and Enniscorthy. I spoke to one of the parents from the Coolcots school who told me that a professor from America, who visits the school every few months, has said that the school has one of the best records of mainstreaming children with autistic behaviour into mainstream schools. That school should be used as a model for others to follow. That is the type of service about which we should be talking in this debating chamber and one the Government should be providing.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Hear, hear.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey The Minister, Deputy Hanafin, is hiding behind civil servants again and blaming them for what is clearly a resource issue. There is a shortage of special needs assistants. The Minister must face up to that and stop talk[1137]ing in riddles to people outside this House. There is a lack of resources.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney If the Senator had been here earlier he would have heard the Minister.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey When the Minister states there are so many places available, does that mean we have enough?

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney No, it is not, but there are far more than there were in the past.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey That is the Senator’s argument consistently but we should look to the future. We need more special needs assistants, more teachers and more places.

Senator Ned O’Sullivan: Information on Ned O'Sullivan Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan A lot done; more to do.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey The parents and the State should work together in providing those and the Government should not dictate to the parents what they will get.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney We got nothing when the Senator’s party was in power.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey I wish to set the record straight regarding the court case we are discussing. The child was assessed as needing ABA by a psychologist, not by the parents, but the State refused to find a nearby ABA place for that child. There is no appeals process in regard to this——

Acting Chairman (Senator Geraldine Feeney): Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney I remind Senators that mobile telephones are not allowed in the Chamber. They should be switched off.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey There was no appeals process for this child and the only option left open to the parents was to go to court because the only place they were offered was in the constituency of the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, which was 50 miles from the child’s home. That was the background to the court case. The parents were being boxed in by the State, so to speak, in that they were given no other option but to travel 50 miles for the placement. We all know that is wrong.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames No appeals process.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey There is a sense that the State has become arrogant.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney Look at the schools situation in 1997.

[1138]Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Senator Twomey, without interruption.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey If I was not interrupted——

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney We are not being arrogant. We are trying to——

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Senator Twomey, without interruption.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey The Senator can look at the situation in 1922 if she wants to——

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney No, just 1997.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey ——but I would be happier to look at the situation in 2008 and what will happen in the coming years.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney The Senator should look at where we have come from.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Senator Keaveney, Senator Twomey, without interruption.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey Talking down to people about the situation in 1997 is not the way to deal with this matter. There are parents——

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney Not if——

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Senator Keaveney, please address your remarks through the Chair.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey ——whose children are being denied an opportunity to mix with other children, get into mainstream schools and have the emotional and psychological love of their parents, siblings and friends. That is what is being denied. The Senator should not be so arrogant and talk about the situation in 1997.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney The Senator should not call me arrogant. It is free speech.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey We are trying to get services for these children. The Minister should come out and talk. She should not send people on to radio stations to say they will deliver this and then vote against it in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Absolutely.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey The Minister came into the House today and spoke many fine words but when push comes to shove, she hides behind civil servants. The “lingering animosity” statement made by a former Minister for Education should be explained to this House because it blames civil servants for what is a Government issue.

[1139]Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle In politics the human issues are always the most difficult to deal with and to govern on. It is easy in Opposition to oppose. It becomes more difficult in Government to come up with appropriate decisions.

Recent Irish political history involving all Governments and political persuasions in the make-up of those Governments has seen a raft of measures on issues that were inappropriately handled, from the haemophiliacs in the early 1980s and the hepatitis C cases in the mid-1990s to the residential redress scheme for abuse in institutions and the situation relating to children with autism. When a situation is made needlessly worse by a bureaucratic approach to what is essentially a human issue it is the political process itself that is failing.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Well done. It is the Senator’s Government. Go for it.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Senator Boyle, without interruption.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle In saying that, we have a collective responsibility in addressing it.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Go for it.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey That is what the Senator should do.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle It ill behoves the Opposition to point fingers and name-call on an issue such as this. It is difficult enough to deal with the issue without having a common approach on it. I would go even further and say that what has been a departmental-led approach in all these issues to resort to the courts system to delay what were necessary social improvements in many of these areas has not been a good approach in terms of the way we should have been managing our country.

There is a job of work to be done by the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine the cost of judicial actions taken by Departments on behalf of the State in the past 20 years in regard to all these issues and the way those resources could have been better used to speed up advances in these areas.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Hear, hear.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle Most of the public disquiet about the recent case arose because while the Government did not ask the Ó Cuanacháins to pay the State’s legal costs as well, which a court decision would have allowed it to do, the fact that the Ó Cuanacháins’ side of those costs alone cost approximately €2 million says something about the cost of judicial action in the first instance.

[1140]On the need for people to seek judicial address that has not been properly provided through legislation, prior to the coming into Government of my party, the last Dáil and Seanad passed three pieces of legislation on disability — the Disability Bill, the Education of People with Special Educational Needs Bill and the Citizens Information Bill. Taken together, that tranche of legislation was meant to address many of the ongoing issues.

It has been mentioned in the House on the Order of Business and in contributions to this debate that one element of that, the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, requires several of its provisions to come into being by the making of ministerial orders. In terms of progressing this issue, that is something on which we should speak with one voice. If the legislative will has been given already by the Dáil and the Seanad, there should be no further reason to delay the making of those provisions, and I would encourage the Minister to do so.

I encourage the Minister and all our Cabinet colleagues — two of my party colleagues are now members of the Cabinet — to avoid in every circumstance, regardless of the advice being offered by civil servants in their Departments, the use of judicial action in terms of people seeking what should be natural rights that are not properly defined either in our Constitution or in our laws. That may be unavoidable on occasions but too often in the past it appears to have been used as a weapon of first resort.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames With no placements they had no choice.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Senator Boyle, without interruption.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle I am not criticising it.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Senator Boyle, without interruption.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I know but this is a debate and the Senator is raising an important issue.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle My own familiarity with the use of judicial action against departmental or Government inaction came about early in my political career when I met Marie O’Donoghue, whose son Paul took the initial case that was subsequently followed on in the Sinnott case in regard to lifelong learning for people with an intellectual disability. While we are concentrating narrowly in terms of autism on special schooling at primary level, the debate must be held in its widest context. What is the purpose of education? Education exists for the State to provide for every citizen the opportunity to allow such citizens [1141]reach their potential and in too many respects our system, while there have been additional resources, is failing in that respect.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames That is right. That is what we are trying to defend.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle That is not a fault solely of Government. It has to do——

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames They should provide the resources.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle They are the State’s resources.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Senator Healy-Eames, address your remarks through the Chair. You are continuing these interruptions and in fairness to Senator Boyle, he did not interrupt anyone.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames On a point of order, we have two and a half hours for such an important debate. It is a pity this debate is not conducted differently so that we could have more interchange on such critical points.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney That is not a point of order. The Fine Gael spokesperson can raise that.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I want the Acting Chairman to take on board this feedback.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney I call Senator Boyle and ask Senator Healy Eames to resume her seat.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle I would like to think that the whole point of my contribution is to highlight that we have not been having this debate properly. It has been conducted in the normal discourse of politics, namely, finger pointing and name calling. It is not addressing the wider ramifications of the issue or the long-term needs. I pointed out a series of measures by which other political parties and other governments of different compositions have addressed similar issues in an inadequate way. It is the way our political system is structured that raises these problems, not the Government or the parties in Government at any given time.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames The Government holds the purse strings.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle The Government has a responsibility that I feel is being fulfilled to a certain extent but, as an individual person, I think it needs to be improved upon. That process is not helped, either in terms of the issue or the people who live with it, by the use of the issue as a political football. That is the central point of my contribution.

[1142]Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey That is not true.

Senator John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan That is very unfair.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney I ask Senators to show a little respect for the House and the Chair and to allow Senator Boyle to continue.

Senator Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey I respect what he is saying because he is making some good points but he should not try to make out that my contribution is making a political football of this.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney I ask Senator Twomey to show a little respect.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames We are politicians.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle I would like to think I am contributing to a debate rather than explaining my reasons for contributing to a debate. I am not identifying individual people or contributions that have been made in recent hours. To deal with this issue requires a significant change of mindset by the Minister, the Department and everyone involved in politics, especially the Opposition.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames It requires a mindset change on behalf of the Government.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle It is a shared responsibility.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney Senator Healy Eames should try to restrain herself and show respect for the Chair. I will ask her to leave if she interrupts any more. She has had her time.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames I am totally restrained but here is a Senator who is hypocritical in what he is saying.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle I did not get my three minutes back.

Senator John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan I propose to share time with Senator Pearse Doherty. I am pleased to participate in this good debate but I regret it cannot be rolled over to next week. We have had roll-overs of other debates on topics which were less deserving than this one.

It is an emotive and politically charged issue but I reject any notion of making a political football of it. Those involved in politics have a right and responsibility to raise issues of national concern. This is an issue of personal concern for many of us. Senator O’Sullivan spoke on the Government side and I too have family interests in this matter, with particular reference to autism, the subject on which I will focus my contribution.

It annoys me greatly that every Government spokesperson I have heard, mostly outside the [1143]House, begins by stating that applied behavioural analysis is not a solution for everyone with autism or a one-size-fits-all solution. Nobody in the Opposition has suggested that ABA fits everyone. I ask the Government to address the real issue. ABA is not a uniform approach and contains many different strands. It is adapted to the individual needs of the child who has the learning difficulty. We must get real on this subject.

The cornerstone of the argument with the Government is early intervention, which cannot be stressed often enough. The early years of these children will never be recovered if lost. I get on well with the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, but on this issue her performance has been shockingly bad. She is dragging her feet. I do not know the reason for it but she adopts an approach that she knows best and the rest of us do not. Senator Ormonde referred to this when stating that the debate is being led by people who know less than the Minister. I resent that and believe we are perfectly entitled to raise these views.

Earlier speakers referred to the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act and the fact it will be implemented. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, to outline the timeframe. It is estimated that €400 million will be needed to implement the parts of the Act not yet in place.

I referred to the importance of early intervention. Previous speakers have referred to the lack of facilities at second level education for those with autism. This will be a significant problem in the future. The major issue faced by many families, including my brother, his wife and their autistic three year old child, is the sheer lack of psychologists and the waiting times for assessments if they remain within the public system. A private psychologist who carries out the assessment may state that ABA should be followed. However, the Government will not provide enough resources for such places. That is the central problem — providing resources to have these places available so that when the professional psychologist, not the Minister or even the parents, decides that ABA is the right approach, a place will be provided for the child.

Senator Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Phelan. I commend the parents of children with special needs and their support organisations who have been making such determined efforts to ensure education rights for their children. I refer in particular to parents of children with autism, who have been telling their stories and making the demand for the most appropriate methods of education to be available equally to each and every child.

The Government has admitted that education for children with autism and other special needs [1144]is an area of historical under-provision. Improvements have been made in recent years but these cannot be stopped short now. The next step is to extend support to those applied behavioural analysis schools that require it and to make this form of education available to all children with autism who need it.

This is not a pro and anti-ABA argument. This is about ensuring every child with autism, as of right, has access to the forms of education most appropriate to his or her individual needs. It is about the ongoing failure of the State to meet these needs. Not every child with autism requires ABA but very many do and it is proven to result in significant improvements in their lives and their potential. One need only listen to their parents to see how important this is.

The Government has provided funding for 12 ABA schools. These schools were established by parents when there was little or no support from the State for the education of children with special needs. Now, the Minister wants to close the door on the development of further ABA schools. To justify this position the Minister and her Department are trying to play down the proven benefits of ABA.

Why has the Minister been blocking the development of more ABA schools? The need exists, the benefits of ABA have been proved and the trained teachers are in place. The only logical explanation for the Minister’s position is that she and her Department believe that providing ABA for all who need it will be far too costly. However, in 2005, in reply to a Sinn Féin Private Members’ motion on special needs education, the Minister stated: “The Minister for Finance is obliged to have due regard to the State’s duty to provide for an education appropriate to the needs of every child under the Constitution and the necessity to provide equity of treatment for all children.”

The Government is not meeting that obligation. As well as the refusal to fund new ABA facilities we have a continuing shortage of speech and language therapists. Children are not getting the essential fair diagnosis of their special needs or the full range of special education and therapies that can make such a major difference in their lives. As always, it is the children of more disadvantaged families who lose out as those lucky enough to be born into more prosperous homes have a better chance of accessing these services privately. This is a scandal that should not be tolerated.

It is shameful for this State to fight the Ó Cuanacháin family all the way to the courts and now pursue them for the costs. The same has happened, and is happening, to other families. Does the Government think it is a better way to use the State resources than to provide education for those children who need it?

[1145]The Government must allocate the resources required to meet special needs and equal rights for all. The deployment of teachers should be based on the right of the individual pupil to have his or her special education needs assessed and to the resources required to ensure each can reach his or her full potential.

I hope the Minister, her Department and her Government colleagues are listening carefully to evidence such as that provided during this debate and by others outside of this Chamber. If they change their position and provide the funding for these schools, no one will accuse them of a climbdown or a U-turn. It would be welcomed as a progressive development that can change the lives of thousands of children and their families for the better. I urge the Minister to do what is right.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen Zoom on Ronan Mullen Gabhaim buíochas as ucht an tseans a bheith agam cur leis na díospóireachta an-tábhachtach seo. Ba bhreá liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. Tá brón orm nach raibh mé in ann a bheith anseo don chuid is mó den díospóireacht ar ábhar atá an-tábhachtach go deo. Nach bhfuil sé soiléir gur chóir go dtabharfaí tús áite do dhaoine le míchumas i gcónaí inár sochaí? Is é an dúshlán atá roimh ár sibhialtacht ná a chinntiú go bhfuil gach rud riachtanach ar fáil dóibh siúd a bhfuil míchumas orthu. Má thugaimid tús áite do na daoine sin, ní féidir agus ní cheart go dtiocfadh ceist airgid nó riaracháin salach ar riachtanais na ndaoine úd agus a dtuismitheoirí. Bhí mé an-tógtha leis an chaoi inar sheas na tuismitheoirí an fód le linn na díospóireachta sa Dáil an tseachtain seo caite. Bhuail an tuaraim mé gur chóir go mbeadh an Rialtas an-chúramach nuair atá an lucht acadúil agus na tuismitheoirí ar aon taobh amháin. Feiceann na tuismitheoirí an fhulaingt agus dul chun cinn gur féidir a dhéanamh le applied behavioural analysis. Ní stopfaidh siad go dtí go bhfaigheann said an rud atá riachtanach do na páistí.

I have been in touch with teachers and parents who deal with and care for children with autism, and I am confining my comments to the issue of autism and ABA. They do not understand the attitude that has been taken by the bureaucracy to date. No doubt the Minister is sincere in her efforts to provide for the needs of people but as so often before, the other imperatives in public life of fiscal issues and bureaucracy tend to frustrate even the best of intentions.

I know of a case, for example, where a teacher realised that the necessary approach was not available and had to go and claim neglect under the Child Care Act 1991 to get the necessary special needs assistant in the school for a child with autism.

The Government is not stating that ABA is bad. It knows ABA is very much part of the sol[1146]ution. The problem is that in talking about an eclectic approach, it seems to give the impression that a little ABA will be fine as long as it is available in the school.

Let us be clear what is needed. We certainly need fully qualified teachers within the system but whether in autism units of ordinary schools or special ABA units or schools, we need fully qualified ABA consultants available to the schools. One needs a teacher who has done the necessary courses and has the qualifications in ABA who is working one on one with the children, and then backed-up by the necessary special needs assistants who can continue to work one on one.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Hear, hear. That is what is needed.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen Zoom on Ronan Mullen Whereas that may be costly in the short term, proponents of ABA rightly point out that the savings will be made in the longer term. As a result of providing ABA, the children will be able to proceed to what we might call more normal school, if one will pardon the expression.

We could be penny wise and pound foolish——

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Yes.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen Zoom on Ronan Mullen ——if we deny to children the necessary services which may be costly in the short term but which will more than pay for themselves in the long term. I am not saying ABA suits everyone, but many of those children will progress to what one might call a more mainstream form of schooling. Not only will we save on the costs in the long term, we will do right by this vulnerable section of society who deserve our care and attention.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey): Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey The Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin, regrets she could not be present for the entire debate, but she is preparing for the Student Support Bill which is scheduled to be taken in the Dáil this afternoon. Senators will appreciate that it is an important Bill which is being welcomed across the board by students generally.

I have listened to the debate for the past hour and to the discussion on this matter which has taken place outside the House. I reiterate that the development of an educational system for children with special educational needs, including those with autism, has been a key priority for this Government.

A key challenge over the past ten years has been to meet the needs of all children with autism. There is now a nationwide network of autism-specific education places in situ. This network has been the culmination of much work, [1147]including consideration of the available research, the task force report, advice from autism experts, the National Educational Psychological Service and the inspectorate on the provision of education for these children who have such individual needs.

Listening to a number of reports over recent days, I wonder if the flexibility that is now built into the school-based system is fully understood. The challenge facing any Minister for Education and Science is to put in place a framework of provision which can meet the needs of all prospective children who may present for enrolment. For children with autism this spectrum is vast and includes children with significant social and communications difficulties, children who have learning disabilities and children who can be fully integrated alongside their typical peers.

I am concerned the impression has been created of a one-size-fits-all approach, namely, that the Government wants all children with autism to enrol in mainstream schools and that this is the only option being made available. This is not the case. The purpose of education is to enable children to reach their full potential——

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames The Department is not prepared to resource anything wider.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney The Minister of State without interruption.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey ——and to help them become as independent as possible and to have as full a life as possible when they are adults. This is as true for children with autism as for any other child.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Information on Fidelma Healy Eames Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames Very different children.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey The Government has worked hard to put in place a continuum of educational provision for all children with autism. This continuum has at its core a child-centred approach. The education provided for each child must be highly structured and individualised to meet that child’s needs. Children with autism need to be taught how to learn which the rest of us take for granted.

The network of educational provision needs to be flexible enough to cater for all children who present, not only ones who may benefit from a particular approach. The system must also be robust enough to meet the needs of children who would benefit from being educated through one approach.

The educational provision now in place includes mainstream classes for the many children with autism who can thrive in such settings. These children may need additional support from [1148]a teacher or special needs assistant and if they do, the National Council for Special Education sanctions such posts.

Some children with autism need a greater level of support. These children have the option of enrolling in one of more than 275 special classes for children with autism where teachers can draw on a range of teaching methodologies and interventions. This does not mean that all teachers use all the approaches with every child. It means they must have more than one skill set that can be used, if necessary, to ensure each child reaches his or her potential.

Children grow, develop and progress in school. Their needs change over time. As this happens, teachers need to be able to draw on the range of approaches to tailor the child’s individual education plan to meet the child’s changing needs.

Other children with autism have complex needs and are better supported in special schools. Special autism-specific classes have been established in special schools throughout the country to meet the needs of these children, as Senators will be aware. The Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin, sanctioned the opening of two such schools in Dublin and Limerick recently which will meet specifically the needs of children with autism. In the event that further special schools are needed to meet demand, these will also be sanctioned. I will be very pleased to see the centres in the pilot ABA scheme become special schools for children with autism and become part of the continuum of educational provision.

  2 o’clock

We have had a constructive debate on this issue. I thank Senators for their contributions on this emotive subject. Our educational policy is one of inclusion and of placing children in the least restrictive environment, commensurate with their abilities and needs. Our educational policy must be focused on the needs of every child, rather than on the needs of any one approach. Our intention is to continue to invest in and improve education for all children with special educational needs.

Acting Chairman: Information on Geraldine Feeney Zoom on Geraldine Feeney When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday.


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