Cork children with autism face difficulty going back to school

Cork children with autism face difficulty going back to school
Karen O'Mahony of The Rainbow Club for Children with Autism at Mahon Community Centre.Pic; Larry Cummins.

Cork parents of children with autism are worried about preparing them for a return to school, according to the head of an autism charity in the Rebel County.

Karen O’Mahony is the founder of the Rainbow Club, a charity that supports children with autism and their families in Cork,

She said parents that here are anxious about sending their children back to school due to a lack of information on new measures.

The Government’s €375m plan to reopen schools includes additional funds for special schools and classes.

“The concern for a lot of parents is that these guidelines and measures are all completely new, for both ourselves and our kids,” Karen said.

“Usually, with change, we would use visuals and other preparation methods to prepare the children, but we don’t have that in this case because it’s totally strange and new.

“All we have is bits of information from schools who are advising us about one-way systems, scattered break times, designated areas for different groups — that isn’t enough for us to effectively prepare kids for the big changes going on.

“I’ve also heard from parents who haven’t heard anything from their schools about new measures that are being put in place.

“Some schools are leaving it very late to allow families to prepare, and parents are so anxious, so nervous.”

Ms O’Mahony also raised concerns about getting children with autism to wear their masks.

“It’s a massive personal issue for kids really in terms of that new restraint on their faces,” she said. “ My eldest boy is 15 and he is very worried about having to put something on his face.

“We tried it a lot over the summer but it’s just not working.

She is aware of many families dealing the the same fears.

“The teachers have said it’s not going to be easy for them to implement it, and it’s not going to be easy for children trying to adjust to it,” said Ms O’Mahony.

“In a unit, there’ll be six kids for three adults and it won’t be much different for them — but for children with autism who are attending mainstream schools, it will be a very different experience.

“Things that stress children with autism out about going to school normally will now be heightened massively.

She believes that if changes are introduced carefully and gently, children will be able to adjust — but this may not always be possible.

“That’s easy to say for smaller schools of a few hundred pupils, but larger ones with more than 1,000 students could find it very difficult,” she said.

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