Autism and the search for an appropriate school space in Cork 

A Cork mother highlights that some students face a long commute to access a suitable place. 
Autism and the search for an appropriate school space in Cork 

Charlie, Katie, Leila, Matt and Noah Gould. Katie has started a campaign for school places for autistic children to be established at second level in Ballincollig

ACORK mother has expressed concerns that her 13-year-old son has not secured an ‘appropriate’ second-level school place for next September.

Katie Gould from Ballincollig has launched a campaign for school places for autistic children to be established at second level in Ballincollig for her son Charlie and for other children who have autism in the locality.

The concerned mum was joined by other parents over the festive period in initiating a postcard campaign to highlight the issue on behalf of the local community.

“We set up a postcard campaign. It is a Christmas wish from the children of Ballincollig who want autism classes in our schools by next September.

“We posted 100 postcards with signatures from people in the local community to the Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan and to the National Council for Special Education,” she said.

 Katie and Charlie Gould, A Christmas Wish from Children of Ballincollig.
Katie and Charlie Gould, A Christmas Wish from Children of Ballincollig.

By initiating this campaign, Ms Gould wants progress to be made on delivering appropriate local second-level school places for students with autism.

“I have written to every city councillor in our area, all our TD’s, Micheál Martin, Norma Foley, the Ombudsman for Children repeatedly. I have encouraged all parents and people in the locality to do the same.

“The more voices we can add the better. We are hoping progress can be made. I still don’t have a school place for my son. There are other families in Ballincollig who don’t have an appropriate place for their children.

“There are quite a lot of children from Ballincollig commuting to Macroom on a daily basis which is not appropriate. This is stressful for the child as you are adding an hour commute.

“If the Government looks at the bigger picture, it would probably be cheaper to have an appropriate school place for each child in their locality,” she added.

Charlie Gould has been offered a school place in a mainstream school for next September, but his concerned mother said this situation would not suit her son’s needs.

“School has always been traumatic for Charlie. He always dreaded school. 

"Charlie is currently going to Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin in Ballincollig which is a wonderful school. They started an autism class in September and that has just radically changed his life. 

"He does not dread school anymore, which is brilliant.

“He is due to start secondary school next September. He has been offered a place in a mainstream school. I can’t ask him to go back to the way things were before he started in the autism class, as school was horrendous for him through no fault of his school.

“His current school-related anxiety is almost nil which we could not have dreamed would have been the case. There are no autism classes in any of the secondary schools in Ballincollig. This is not good enough,” she added.

Katie Gould from Ballincollig has commenced a campaign for autism classes to be established at second level in Ballincollig for her son Charlie. Pictured left to right are Katie's children: Leila, Noah and Charlie Gould.
Katie Gould from Ballincollig has commenced a campaign for autism classes to be established at second level in Ballincollig for her son Charlie. Pictured left to right are Katie's children: Leila, Noah and Charlie Gould.

Ms Gould said the demand exists within the greater Ballincollig area for autism classes to be established at second level.

“The National Council for Special Education told me to apply everywhere within a 45-minute journey of our house. I applied to 21 schools. I applied to the local secondary schools for the mainstream places even though it is not suitable from his experience at primary level. None of the schools with autism classes have offered him a place. We don’t have an appropriate school place for him for next September.

“Le Chéile secondary school was due to open an autism class in September but the planning permission for their temporary accommodation was turned down. There were more than six applicants to Le Chéile for its autism class. There are more than enough children to fill an autism class.

“Autism classes work differently for different children. It can support them as they access mainstream classes. This will suit some kids and not others. The options are to either go into mainstream classes or travel to Macroom,” she added.

The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Colm Kelleher, who hails from Ballincollig, said the current situation is not good enough.

“For Ballincollig with a huge population to have no secondary school providing these services, which are acutely required, is not good enough. 

"I have written and spoken with the Minister for Education on this issue. We are all aware that this needs to be put in place by September 2022." 

The Fianna Fáil councillor said he is hopeful a plan will be put in place to accommodate the need in the Ballincollig area.

“Gaelscoil an Chaisleáin and Le Chéile secondary school, when they are provided with their permanent buildings, will have to have an ASD unit attached to their schools.

She said Minister Foley, her department, and the officials in the City Hall are all working to hopefully put a plan in place early this year so this can be delivered.

“All avenues are being explored, whether it be a completely new temporary site for the Le Chéile school or maybe an additional prefab beside the school, to accommodate this ASD class.

“I would be very hopeful that regardless of what decision the department comes to that this would be in place by September 22.”

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