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Written Answers - Special Educational Needs

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 762 No. 1

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 57.  Deputy Jonathan O’Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  his views on applied behaviour analysis; if he still subscribes to the view that official recognition should be conferred on ABACAS schools using the applied behaviour analysis method of one-to-one teaching with pupils as a means of ensuring an honest and open evaluation of the effectiveness of the ABA method. [19517/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn My Department’s policy on educating children with autism is centred on an inclusive, child centred approach promoting the use of a range of autism specific interventions including Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA), TEACCH and PECs.

Under this approach, each child can benefit from a number of different interventions to ensure the optimum individualised educational programme for him/her. Educational intervention for children with autism needs to be child-centred and tailored to meet the needs of each child, rather than matching the needs of a child to one particular or exclusive intervention.

This view is informed by advice received from international experts on autism, the National Educational Psychological Service and the Inspectorate. An analysis of research — including [161]the report of the Irish Task Force on Autism — supports this approach too, while Autism societies in other countries also caution against relying on just one intervention.

My Department’s policy is to provide for children with special educational needs, including autism, to be included in mainstream schools unless such a placement would not be in their best interests or the interests of the children with whom they are to be educated. Some children may be supported in a special class attached to a mainstream school. These students have the option, where appropriate, of full/partial integration and interaction with other pupils. Other children may have such complex needs that they are best placed in a special school. Students with special educational needs have access to a range of support services including additional teaching and/or care supports. In special schools and special classes, students are supported through lower pupil teacher ratios. Special needs assistants may also be recruited specifically where pupils with disabilities and significant care needs are enrolled.

Children in special classes have the benefit of fully-qualified teachers who are trained in educating and developing children generally and who have access to additional training in autism-specific approaches, including ABA. The level of such training available to teachers has improved dramatically in recent years and is a major priority for the Government. However, the Department does not accept — based on research, advice and best practice — that ABA should be the only intervention used. It is important that children have access to a range of approaches so that their broader needs can be met. By enabling children in special classes to have access to a range of methods, including ABA, the Government is doing what we are advised is in the best interests of such children. The Deputy will be aware of the ABA pilot scheme which was funded by my Department for the past decade. The pilot scheme was established in the absence of a network of school-based special classes for children with autism which is now available. The establishment of this network of autism-specific special classes in schools across the country to cater for children with autism has been a key educational priority in recent years. In excess of 450 classes have now been approved around the country at primary and post primary level, including many in special schools. All of the centres which participated in this scheme, including the schools referred to by the Deputy, have been granted recognition as special schools for children with autism. These schools operate in line with my Department’s policy. Following their recognition the new schools are currently progressing well in the transitional phase. It is my intention to continue to support this transitional process.

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