The problems of a south Donegal family with four autistic children were highlighted on national radio last weekend when it emerged that the children had been segregated in a wired off area during play breaks at school.
The Brogan family, Patrick and Maria and their four children Martin, Cassie and twins Daniel and Pauric all live just outside Mountcharles and the children attend the local St. Peter’s NS in the village.
Speaking from Mountcharles Valerie Cox of the Pat Kenny Show said that the two older children had been in mainstream school for the last number of years but with the addition of a further three autistic children, the school now qualified for a dedicated autistic classroom but this was not ready as yet but developments are very well advanced.
It has now been confirmed that work on this classroom will commence during the mid-term break.
Patrick Brogan the father of the four children said, “I was approached by another very distressed parent who told me that the children were being separated and not allowed to play together and found that the children were enclosed in a security fence that you would see on a building site and left by themselves.
“I pleaded with the school to take them out of it but they said that they couldn’t if they were to ensure safety due to lack of resources.
“After our complaint, the wire fence came down but was replaced by a wooden one - this was just a cage, nothing but a cage; it was not a solution.”
Another mother commented on the RTE show, “The exclusion of these children is socially damaging and long term will deprive them of their social skills - there must be an alternative.”
Fr. Adrian Gavigan CC and a member of the Board of management told the Democrat yesterday that he felt that the whole issue was a ‘knee - jerk’ reaction and that the family had initially asked for a more secure system.
“We are on the verge of a new autistic classroom - there is an onus on us to provide a safe environment for all.”
He added that the fence was always only a temporary move and that there were much better things to come with the construction of the new classroom due to begin over the mid - term break
In a statement by the principal Noreen Cotton which was read on the Pat Kenny show, she said that initially she couldn’t put the other children along with the autistic children because she needed parental permission to operate the “buddy” system.
“The ‘buddy’ system is now working really well with all the children not only playing together but also enjoying class togethe,” she said.
Commenting to this newspaper yesterday, Fr. Gavigan said,”I would be the first to admit that conditions were far from ideal - initially we had hoped to open this classroom in September but we did experience planning difficulties.
“Perhaps what is more important in this whole issue is that we only have two Special Needs Assistants (SNA’s) and have been pushing intensely for a third to look after our special needs children.
“This is vital not only to the integration but the re-integration of our pupils in St. Peter’s.”