Special classes for children with autism account for over 80% of special classes in mainstream schools. Their original intention was to be a stepping stone from a special class to a mainstream class for children on the milder end of the spectrum. This is why there are generally a maximum of 2 classes in any one school and this is why teachers weren’t given any special training for cases where a child may be on the more severe end of the spectrum.
However, much like all systems created in Ireland, this didn’t happen and anyone with a diagnosis of ASD was entitled to enrol in one of these classes and we ended up in a situation where a class of six children with Autism could have a mix of children on extreme ends of the spectrum. Scenarios conceivably could exist where a class would have 6 children on the very mild end of the spectrum and have a teacher and 2 SNAs and then you might have in a school up the road a class of 6 children with severe autism and have the exact same ratio of staff.
In 2016, the rules further changed so a diagnosis of autism isn’t enough to enrol in a special class for autism.
We are left with a system that only works when a series of variables seems to land the right way up and it’s unfair on the children, their families and the staff of the school.
Put simply, classes for children with autism need to know what they are for. We need to ask if they are for children who will be able to fully integrate into their mainstream class within 2 years or whether they are for anybody with a diagnosis of autism, no matter whether they will integrate at all in their respective class or not.
Whatever the decision, the classes need to be adequately supported.