A WEST Clare secondary school has applied to the Department of Education to construct the first purpose dedicated Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) unit in a post-primary facility in the county.
The board of management, students’ council and staff in St Joseph’s Secondary School, Spanish Point are supporting the proposed construction of the new unit to cater for children with ASD leaving primary schools in West Clare, subject to Department of Education approval.
A number of teenagers with ASD from the area are being transported to a special school in Ennis to meet their education requirements, which has been described as unsatisfactory.
There are only a small number of ASD units in mainstream second-level schools throughout the country. The first dedicated ASD unit attached to a mainstream secondary school in North Kerry was officially opened at Listowel Community College last May.
The unit provides for the integration of pupils with autism and the milder variant, Asperger’s, with mainstream education.
In addition to visiting a new ASD unit in Ard Scoil CBS in Clonmel, St Joseph’s principal Mary Crawford has been in contact with the University of Birmingham, England, which provides upskilling courses for teachers as part of her extensive research.
She has also received support from her sister, Dr Susan Crawford, who is a lecturer in sports studies and physical education in the School of Education at UCC.
The seeds for the proposed development were sown following a presentation by two local SENOs, who outlined the facilities provided for children with ASD and related conditions in the county last year.
It is expected the two-classroom suite would cater for up to 12 pupils with ASD, if the department provides all the necessary staffing and equipment.
It would include a central activities space, multi-sensory room and para-educational room with daily living skills. Additional rooms may be provided if deemed necessary following further consultation. A two-room suite would need three teachers and four Special Needs Assistants.
Initial indications suggest six pupils with ASD will apply to enrol in the school in 2013, with another six expected in 2014 if plans get the green light.
Ms Crawford isn’t sure if the unit would be ready for use in September 2012, considering the lead-in time necessary between department approval, the submission of tenders and construction.
Teachers have enrolled in educational courses on ASD provided by the University of Birmingham, while the school also hopes to provide information for pupils on what they can expect.
“We are excited about this project. The new unit will have to be fully equipped and staffed. There is no point in half doing it. I saw what is being provided in Clonmel and hopefully the department will provide the necessary funding,” Ms Crawford said.