What are the educational options available for children with Autism?
As Autism is a spectrum, there is a wide range in levels of individual needs and this is reflected in education provision.
Under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme which started in September 2016, all eligible children in the Republic of Ireland are entitled to free early childhood care and education (otherwise known as ‘free pre-school’) in the period before they start primary school. In order to support children with a disability to access free pre-school, a major new programme of supports, the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM), has been introduced.
AIM is a child-centred programme of supports designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme in mainstream pre-school settings, and can participate fully in the pre-school curriculum alongside their peers. For further information on the supports provided by AIM, please see the website here.
Some special schools cater specifically for people with Autism. Other long established learning disability schools cater for general learning disability and may also have Autism specific classes. To search for a list of special schools, please see the Department of Education’s ‘find a school’ section on their website here.
Autism Class in a Mainstream School
Classes for Autistic children in main stream schools have approximately six pupils with a teacher and two special needs assistants (SNA’s). There are many of these schools around the country. For further information on special classes in mainstream schools (both primary and secondary), please see the National Council for Special Education’s website here.
Some children are capable of progressing in a mainstream class with the assistance of an SNA and resource hours. Please note there has been a change in the Special Education Teaching Allocation for each school, which came into effect at the start of the 2017/2018 school year. The new Special Education Teaching Allocation will provide a single unified allocation for special educational support teaching needs to each school, based on that school’s educational profile. You can view each school’s allocation (both primary schools and secondary schools) on the National Council for Special Education’s website here.
Since the EPSEN Act of 2004, there is a growing number of special classes and units for children with Autism in main stream post primary schools. In line with the primary schools, there will be a ratio of approximately 6:1 with two SNA’s. For further information on Autism classes in mainstream schools (both primary and secondary), please see the National Council for Special Education’s website here.
The NCSE was set up to improve the delivery of education services to persons with special educational needs, with a particular focus on Children. Their service is delivered through a national network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), who interact with parents and schools, and liaise with the HSE in providing resources to support children with special educational needs. To see the contact details of your local SENO, please click here.
The NCSE has published a number of useful information booklets and guidelines to help support parents of children with special education needs, including ‘Planning for Life after School’. For more information and to view these booklets in pdf format, please see their website here.
The above list is the education provision of the Department of Education, there are other methods and groups who provide education. This information is only a guideline, for further information please contact the Department of Education www.education.ie
If you are an Autistic person, or the parent of a person with Autism and are looking to investigate the options available after leaving school, there are a number of organisations who may be of assistance to you.
For Further or Higher Education
If an Autistic student wishes to progress to further education after leaving secondary school, the following organisations may be of some help:
DARE – Direct Access Route to Education
DARE is a third level alternative admissions scheme for school leavers whose disabilities have had an impact on their second level education. DARE offers reduced points places to school leavers who, as a result of having a disability, have experienced additional educational challenges in second level education. For further information on DARE, and participating colleges, please see their website here.
AHEAD – Association for Higher Education Access and Disability
AHEAD is an independent non-profit organisation working to promote full access to and participation in further and higher education for students with disabilities and to enhance their employment prospects on graduation. AHEAD provides information to students and graduates with disabilities, teachers, guidance counsellors and parents on disability issues in education. For further information, please see their website.
The Higher Education Authority – Fund for Students with Disabilities
The Fund for Students with Disabilities allocates funding to further and higher education colleges for the provision of services and supports to full-time students with disabilities (including Autism). The Fund aims to ensure that students can participate fully in their academic programmes and are not disadvantaged by reason of a disability. For more information, and to check your eligibility, please go to their website here.
Disability Support Services
Many colleges and universities have dedicated Disability Support Services, who can assist those on the spectrum with their studies. For other educational institutions not listed below, please contact them directly to enquire about the services they may offer;
- Trinity College Disability Service
- University College Dublin Disability Support
- National College of Ireland Disability Support
The following organisations may be able to assist you if you are interested in further learning, outside of a College/University environment.
The National Learning Network
National Learning Network provides a range of flexible training programmes and support services for people who require specialist support (job seekers, unemployed, people with an illness or disability) in 50 centres around the country. For more information, and to see details about their centres nationwide, please find their website here.
AONTAS – The National Adult Learning Organisation
The National Adult Learning Organisation advocates for the right of all adults in Ireland to quality learning throughout their lives. For further information, please see their website here.
The National Adult Literacy Agency
The National Adult Literacy Agency is an independent charity committed to making sure people with literacy and numeracy difficulties can fully take part in society and have access to learning opportunities that meet their needs. If you would like information on how they may be able to assist you, please view their website here.