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10 Aug 2022

Pictures from opening of new Autism Unit in Drumshanbo school

Pictures from opening of new Autism Unit in Drumshanbo school

Pupils Caitlyn Hayes and Eoghan Maxwell help cut the tape with school principal Mairín O'Keeffe and Minister Josepha Madigan at the official opening on Friday last. Pictures: Willie Donnellan

“Every child in this school has individual needs and we strive to meet them. The opening of this building means that we are better placed than ever before to do just that.”

This was stated by principal Máirín O'Keeffe of St Patrick's NS, Drumshanbo, at the official opening of the new autism unit at the school on Friday, June 24.

From left, Supt Chris Grogan, Carrick-on-Shannon Garda Station; Cllr Brendan Barry, Cllr Enda McGloin, Mairín O'Keeffe, principal; Minister Josepha Madigan, Ruth McLoughlin; Minster of State Frank Feighan; MEP Maria Walsh and Martin McGowan, Chairperson Board of Management

Welcoming everyone to the opening, which was attended by many politicians, and which was performed by Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan she went on to say “About seven years ago, Clare McKeon, Jennifer’s mother, came to visit me in the school about enrolling Jennifer. At the time we had one Autism Class and there was not going to be a place in it for Jennifer although, she had a sibling in the school. And that conversation is where the story of today began.

“I talked to the BOM about opening a second class – they were all for it. We went from there to discussing building - the BOM was enthusiastically behind that as well. We sought funding from the DES, we fund-raised and of course, we were given the gift of the site for free from our parish. That’s why we were able to exceed the brief, particularly in creating the hall and the improved outdoor space. I know that many of you here today contributed to that so you should all feel as proud as I do and as the board does in what has been achieved here”.

She continued “But a building is just that and its only power is in facilitating what happens inside it, and that comes down to the people, the staff and children who work in our Cairde and Laochra classes and throughout our school. We are evolving as a school and learning about how to be more inclusive and that isn’t always easy. It’s a process that involves everyone in the school, staff and children.

“And it’s a process that needs to happen and not just in this school. I know that our neighbours in Drumcong are opening an Autism class in September and I think that’s great. I wish them well and I’m sure I speak for Ruth when I say that if we can help in any way, we will.

“My daughter Eibhlín warned me about my speech today – she said that I wasn’t to give out or be like Fr Ted who got an award and called out all his fellow priests in his acceptance speech, but from the safety of imminent retirement, I have to make these few observations.

“Children with Autism should be able to access local schools. More classes are needed. To be fair, the DES is fairly quick to fund and facilitate this so what’s the problem?

“Well, for what it’s worth, I think that there are two main things that need to be addressed. The first is training for teachers and that starts in the colleges. Children with Autism are in schools all over Ireland – train our young teachers to meet their needs. I never had that training and I don’t believe, 40 years on, that things have changed that much. Certainly they haven’t changed enough.

“Secondly, there is an allocation of SNA support for special classes. It’s a given – you don’t need to apply. There needs to be a similar allocation of services – of speech therapy, sensory OT and possibly behaviour therapy. It should be a general allocation based on numbers of children. There shouldn’t be any need to apply, never mind to have to struggle, for these services.

“If these two things were in place, then the opening of classes in our schools, would be far easier to achieve.

“Every child in this school has individual needs and we strive to meet them. The opening of this building means that we are better placed than ever before to do just that. Go raibh míle maith agaibh,” she concluded.

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