Lack of autism places in mainstream schools could force Cork family to emigrate

Lack of autism places in mainstream schools could force Cork family to emigrate
Rebecca Hitchcock with her son Charlie at their home in Blackrock, Cork. 

A FAMILY in Cork fear they will be forced to move to another country if their son can’t get a place in a mainstream school autism unit.

Rebecca Hitchcock’s five-year-old son Charlie currently attends Sonas Special Junior Primary School in Carrigaline but needs a place in an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) unit in a mainstream primary school next year.

Rebecca, who lives in Blackrock, has attended open nights at schools where she and other parents were told there were very limited places available for their children.

Recounting one evening when she queued to speak to a principal, Rebecca said: “I just asked her to be very frank, and just tell me what was the likelihood of my son getting a place in the school, and she said there’s only one space available for this year.”

Charlie Hitchcock at home in Blackrock, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Charlie Hitchcock at home in Blackrock, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Rebecca has already received two other letters informing her there is no place for Charlie next year.

“All ASD parents are the same as me,” said Rebecca. “They put their name down in every unit they can because there’s no guarantee you’ll get a spot.”

If Charlie doesn’t get a school place he will need home tuition, which the family will have to source themselves.

However, Rebecca feels this isn’t the right route for him as he is high functioning and would gradually be able to be integrated into mainstream teaching.

“For my son, if I don’t find a place for him in a school where he can socialise, I’m basically hindering him in the only area that he really needs help with, so it would be setting my child back completely. It would be the worst-case scenario of what could happen to him,” she said.

“I’ve done everything I can, and now I just have to wait and see if he’ll be the luck of the draw.”

She and her husband Hugo Martins have discussed the possibility of moving to another country if Charlie doesn’t get a school place.

The couple also has two other young children.

“I’ll have to uproot my whole family to another country to try and get my son the facilities that my country can’t provide,” said Rebecca.

“I don’t want to set my son back by doing the home-tutoring, but there is a high possibility that could happen.

“You get so stressed because there’s nothing I can do. I can’t guarantee that my son will get an education.”

Rebecca also asked for more information to be provided to parents when their children are diagnosed with conditions such as autism.

Rebecca Hitchcock with her son Charlie
Rebecca Hitchcock with her son Charlie

She feels had she known at the time how difficult it would be to get a school place for her son, she could have started applying the day she found out.

“I just feel like the whole system is so hard to deal with emotionally as a parent,” she says.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) told The Echo that there are currently 274 special classes in Cork, which represents a total of 1,709 special class places.

“From time to time, NCSE becomes aware of children with special education needs who encounter difficulties in securing a school placement and work with schools to try to open additional special school/class places.

“NCSE is currently aware of a very small number of children in the Cork area, who are seeking a specialised education placement.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content