fighting talk | 

Crystal Swing star lashes out at the system as she fights for autistic son’s education

Crystal Swing singer Dervla Burke O'Connor with her son Paul

Amy Molloy

Crystal Swing singer Dervla Burke O’Connor has said the stress of finding a school place for her autistic son is something no parent should have to experience.

The mother of two said she has so far contacted around 25 schools and has yet to secure a place for her son Paul for September.

Ms Burke said parents in her situation are being “forced to beg” for an education for their children.

“There are no special schools in east Cork and other schools in the county aren’t accepting applications due to the huge demand,” she told the Irish Independent .

“I’ve been inundated with messages from people who feel exhausted, isolated and alone and it feels like nobody cares.”

Her son was diagnosed with severe autism when he was two and since then he has struggled to receive the essential services he needs.

“We were waiting almost two years to get his public assessment done and I eventually went private,” she said.

“I was told Paul would receive his essential services after being diagnosed. I was aware there was a big waiting list, but he hasn’t received occupational therapy at all.”

Paul is now five and his mother knows that education and access to therapies are vital at this stage of his development.

“I’ve spoken to many people who have adult children with special needs, they’re in their 30s and 40s and nothing has changed after all of these years.

“People are still fighting for help and services that they need in order to progress.

“Paul still has a chance, but now is the time. I’m constantly being told that early intervention is the key, but if it goes on too long then the damage is done and it can’t be changed.”

The country singer said every child is entitled to an education.

“My child needs a place in a special school. We shouldn’t have to beg for this. He requires essential therapy and this has a huge role to play with his behaviour issues and the trouble that we had in trying to communicate with him,” Dervla said.

“It has absolutely impacted every part of our lives. We don’t have any help so we can’t do things like a normal family can do.

“It’s very important that the child gets that little bit of independence. In the event of a car accident or having a terminal illness or a family crisis, nobody knows what’s around the corner and it’s always in the back of the mind.

“What happens to children like Paul, where do they go and what will happen? It feels like a never-ending losing battle.”

The lack of school places for autistic children, the lack of special needs assistant hours and other educational supports were highlighted in a new report from the national autism charity AsIAm.

More than half of people with autism have experienced discrimination, according to the Same Chance report.

Just over a quarter of those surveyed said they did not feel safe or protected in their community, while 54pc said they have experienced discrimination because they have autism.

AsIAm founder Adam Harris said: “We need to target discrimination in a serious way. In 2022 that’s a shocking indictment of society that 54pc have experienced discrimination. Sometimes it’s subtle.

“It can be situations where a child isn’t welcome into their local sports club where their siblings are.

“In some cases you have so many school options for a child who is not autistic, but very few for children who are.

“It’s great more awareness is being raised about autism but it needs to go further than that.”

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