Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Parents and Professionals and Autism (PAPA)

  While PAPA is extremely indebted to the NI Department of Education for funding the 1993 initiative in training 25 teachers within Special Education (SLD level only) in the implementation of a extremely effective education intervention for children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) we would wish to highlight the following:

    —  The 1993 training in TEACCH was the start of the acknowledgment, in Northern Ireland, of the specific needs of children with an ASD. It would be generally agreed that these were unmet before the 1992-93 introduction of Structured Education. (The aim of the approach is to build upon the existing expertise of staff). PAPA has been anxious to see this investment in autism maximised.

      A copy of the Executive Summary of the DHSS/Education funded Evaluation of TEACCH by the University of Ulster is enclosed.[3]

    —  There has been no further investment in training in TEACCH to address the needs of new staff. In-service training has taken place but resources have not been ring-fenced. As a result, training and consultation have been largely ad hoc. The maintenance of TEACCH expertise has been left to the goodwill and admirable commitment of individual staff, often in addition to their normal duties. A pro-active training policy on ASD is essential within education.

    —  Only three of the five Education and Library Boards have appointed peripatetic/outreach specialists regarding ASD/PDD with one of the three Boards regrettably delaying an appointment for over a year. Home links are an essential part of TEACCH.

    —  There has been negligible investment regarding autism for teachers in other levels of Special Education (e.g., MLD schools) or mainstream despite the increase in the diagnosis of children with Asperger Syndrome in Northern Ireland.

    —  DENI have ceased to provide funding for staff to enhance their own expertise through study in autism at the University of Birmingham Distance Learning Course. The Department of Education in mainland UK and in the South of Ireland continue to provide funding.

    —  There is no school in Northern Ireland for children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. (The unique difficulties around the social impairment which is a core element of ASD necessitates this specific provision within a range of educational provision). I would draw your attention to the enclosed booklet "Schools, Units and Classes"[4] and to the record of provision in the rest of the UK. The new National Autistic Society (NAS) school near Ayr in Scotland is the closest provision to us.

    —  PAPA would support the provision of approaches/interventions regarding ASD under the overall concept of SPELL promoted by the NAS which highlights the interdependence between existing educational expertise and the vital need to incorporate specific approaches to meet the unique needs of pupils within the Autistic Spectrum (and at least TEACCH has already been authenticated by the University of Ulster).

    —  PAPA would also welcome an active debate on the key role of educational psychologists in the Province regarding the identification, assessment and diagnosis of ASD. Current research is promoting the need for a multi-disciplinary diagnosis in acknowledgement of the complexity of the condition. It would be our wish to see educational psychology take its active part in this process.

  It is of concern to us that full use and recognition of good practice in the education of pupils with ASD is not being given a higher priority within education currently. This situation will provide fertile ground for Tribunal appeals against education—it is regrettable that education is unable to take the remedy that is in their own hands.

  I do hope that these comments and submissions can be considered in your current enquiry in order to address the tragic discrepancy in service provision for people with ASD between mainland UK and Northern Ireland.

3 April 1998

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