Kids State Forgot; Scandal of Autistic Children's Schooling

The Mirror (London, England), January 30, 2003 | Go to article overview

Kids State Forgot; Scandal of Autistic Children's Schooling


Byline: CAOIMHE YOUNG

THEY are Ireland's forgotten autistic children cast aside by the state.

The government has ignored their educational needs and left them to suffer in a lonely world of their own.

But this Valentine's Day up to 100 parents will picket the Midlands Health Board to fight for their children's rights.

They want the state to give them the one-to-one education they need to live normal lives.

Intensive, early intervention before the age of six is critical for children with autism.

If they are not given that care almost all become dependent on their family or the state.

Gerry Loughlin, of the Laois/Offaly group Families For Autism, said: "Parents of autistic kids are sick of being ignored by the government.

"Living with autism is not a crime but these children are being punished by neglect.

"If the government put cash into providing our kids with a one-to-one education they could make such a difference."

"Around 100 cases are being processed through the courts by parents of children with learning disorders who want their kids educated.

"The government must stop spending money on these cases and deal with the problem."

"Early intervention results in half of autistic kids being in mainstream education by the age of 10. The health board will not fund such a programme.

"Our kids do not deserve to be forgotten.""

Devon needs extra care

DEVON Owen, who is now six, didn't utter a word until he was four.

His mum Susan, 26, said: "He was diagnosed with autism in Germany when he was 18 months.

"He was having severe problems with speech and language. I had heard of autism but I didn't know very much.

"It was difficult to diagnose Devon as, unlike a lot of autistic kids, he is very sociable."

Devon attends a school for autistic children in Athy, Co Kildare.

Susan, who brings up Devon alone, explained: "He looks exactly the same as everyone else.

"He is friendly, tall and doesn't look handicapped in any way.

"But he takes everything very literally. If the teacher tells him to stand in the corner, his reply will be, 'which corner?'.

"If I ask him to put something in the bedroom he will go in and put it on the bedroom floor.

"Everything has to be explained to him literally and I have to say his name if I want his attention or he won't realise I am talking to him. It's very difficult to get used to.

"Sometimes I find myself explaining every little thing to adults, who then look at me as if I'm mad."

Susan believes if Devon could get the speech and learning education he needs he will not be dependent on her for the rest of his life.

She said: "Parents of autistic children have to fight for everything, nothing is easy.

"Ireland does not have the facilities to cope with the numbers of autistic children who need special attention.

"It is angry and frustrating to have to fight for every little thing your child needs to grow up healthy and happy."

WHAT IS IT?

UP to 500 children and adults in Ireland suffer from autism.

It affects about 15 in every 10,000 newborn children and three quarters are male.

It is a rare condition which is characterised by severe difficulties in communication, relationships and behaviour.

However, sufferers often show a great talent in certain fields such as mathematics or music.

There is no cure for autism and its causes remain relatively unknown.

Research has shown that it could be caused by maternal rubella, tuberous sclerosis, lack of oxygen at birth and complications of childhood diseases such as measles.

The Irish Society For Autism can be contacted on 01 8744684.

Stephen has been stifled

STEPHEN Loughlin used to bring a packet of cornflakes to bed instead of his teddy. …

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