‘A big weight has been lifted off our family’s shoulder’

By Aideen O'Flaherty

A “BIG weight” has been lifted off the shoulders of a local family after they received confirmation that their 12-year-old son, who has special needs, now has a secondary school to attend in September after months of battling to find a school that will support his needs.

As reported in The Echo last June, Jack Cullen, who has moderate Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and dyslexia, struggled to find a secondary school with an ASD unit that could take him on.

Karen and Jack Cullen 27062017

Since Jack was three-and-a-half he has attended both a pre-school and a primary school with dedicated ASD units, which cater for the needs of children with autism through a pupil-teacher ratio of 6:1 and additional Special Needs Assistants in each class.

Jack’s mother Karen Kavanagh, who lives in Kiltipper, said she had been “fighting since the start of May” to find a school with an ASD unit that could enrol her son, and this week she finally received the news that Jack has been accepted into a secondary school which has set up a new ASD unit.

Karen told The Echo: “It’s a happy outcome, Jack has secured a place in a new ASD unit.

“I feel so relieved that he has a place, a big weight has been lifted off our family’s shoulders.”

Karen first began contacting schools with ASD units in 2015 and since last September she has been applying for places for her son, but faced difficulty as the schools were unable to offer Jack a place.

Karen added: “I don’t think any parent should have to go through all of these hurdles.

“There should be more secondary schools opening with ASD units as it’s still a crisis.

“The system is an absolute joke, there’s all these primary schools which are very welcoming, but going forward all these little boys and girls will still need supports when they get to post-primary.

“The primary and secondary [systems] don’t match at all.”

Karen received support from Killinarden resident Lynn Byrne, who is a member of the Tallaght Parents’ Autism Support Group, who advocated for her while she was trying to secure a place for Jack.

Lynn told The Echo that the secondary school Jack has secured a place in “has been granted a double room, a teacher and extra funding for resources in order to accept an application from Jack and many students who are struggling for placement.

“The anxiety, worry and stress of her son’s education is finally being addressed for Karen Kavanagh and her family.

“To say we are thrilled is an understatement.

“Jack deserves this school place and I am happy to be his advocate on this and delighted for all the family at this time.”

Lynn also extended her thanks to Minister Katherine Zappone and her team for their help in securing a school place for Jack.

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