Eva will soon be six years old, but she’s not in the same grade with other kids her age. Because she has nonverbal autism and a moderate intellectual disability, she’s been forced to take a preschool class three times.
All this time, her mother, Jennifer, has been trying to enroll her in a special school or an autism class within a mainstream school in or around Dublin, Ireland. But none of the 20-plus schools she’s applied to have agreed to take the young girl.
“She couldn’t possibly cope in mainstream, and, because of that, we need the special school, and we are at the point now where we have applied for upwards of 20 schools,” says Jennifer. “We have been refused from every school so far, and it is looking like she will have to do a fourth year of pre-school.”
Jennifer says she had the same problem last year trying to enroll her daughter in a new school. She was told over and over that it “wouldn’t do Eva any harm” to spend another school year in preschool.
“Now she is coming up to six, and she doesn’t have anything,” says Jennifer. “She needs a special school. They have said she can go to a unit in mainstream school, but as her parents, we think a special school would be most suitable, and that is what the pre-school are advising us as well. She is non-verbal; she doesn’t talk, and it really needs to be a special school.”
Now Eva has found herself in a situation where she may be seven years old before she’s able to start at a school that will be able to provide her with a real and meaningful education.
“We are so worried,” says Jennifer. “I find I am getting upset every day. Every time a letter comes in refusing her, I am just crying. Myself and my husband, we are losing sleep over it, because if she doesn’t get a place before September, there is no guarantee she will get one for next year, and she will be seven then.”
The family has been offered a Home Tuition Grant to hire a tutor, but the Department of Education will not help them find a suitable tutor for Eva. Jennifer also says they hope not to have to resort to this, as it will take away from the social interactions Eva would get at a school.
“She is an autistic little girl,” says Jennifer. “She needs the social interaction. She has to nearly be taught how to socialize with other children, and it is detrimental if she is not around other children.”
No matter who they contact, the family says, no one will help. No one wants to take any ownership in the situation.
“She is slipping through the cracks, I feel, and the book is just being passed,” says Jennifer. “We emailed the minister on March 21st and didn’t even get an acknowledgment.”
Luckily, however, Eva does not yet seem to be aware of what is happening.
“In a way, I am just happy that she doesn’t have the cognitive ability to understand that she can’t go to school like all the other kids,” says Jennifer. “Because that would just be heartbreaking.”
But the family is sure that will change soon enough, and they want their daughter in a special school that can help her before it’s too late for some of the interventions that could help her learn to cope and get along in mainstream society.
We hope, for Eva’s sake, that the right school is still out there and will accept her soon. It’s so important for children with autism and special needs to get extra support early. Eva is just as deserving as any other child of getting a high-quality education.Whizzco