Irish court rules in favour of state in landmark autism education ruling|
DUBLIN, Ireland: The parents of a young autistic boy have reacted to the March 23 verdict in a test High Court action aimed at securing state funding for a specific form of education for him.
Speaking after Justice Michael Peart had ruled that there was insufficient evidence to back up the assertion that the education being provided by the state for six year-old Seán Ó Cuanacháin was not appropriate, the boy's tearful mother,
Yvonne O Cuanachain, said: "The light of learning has been all but extinguished for Seán today."
The legal action against the state - which was taken on behalf of Seán, from Arklow, County Wicklow, by his father, Cian - ran for 68 days from January to July at the High Court last year.
The landmark judgment on March 23 will have implications for the state's funding responsibilities in relation to hundreds of autistic children.
Ó Cuanacháin said she and her husband had had to go home and face Seán "knowing the progress he has made with ABA" and that the eclectic and Model A programme "will not meet his needs but will essentially damage our son."
Ó Cuanacháin said the Irish Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin, had made the provision of ABA (applied behavioural analysis) available for some autistic children and the "only hope now" was that the Minister would extend that provision to Seán.
She added that she believed the experts called for her side in the case had "emphatically vindicated" their belief that the programme advocated for Seán by the State was inappropriate. However, Justice Peart had decided otherwise, she said.
Ó Cuanacháin also said she and her husband had the "utmost respect" for the judicial system and would not comment on the second part of the case prior to the delivery of judgment on that.
It was claimed that the state had failed to provide Seán with adequate free primary education - 30 hours' tuition per week - according to the system of ABA, which Seán's parents contended is an internationally recognised methodology of teaching children with autism.
Kathy Sinnott, an Irish MEP and disability rights campaigner, said she was "angry and disappointed" at the outcome of the case. "A 'take it or leave it' judgment has been handed down to the Ó Cuanacháin family, who will now be compelled to accept a level of care based on whatever the Departments of Education and Health are prepared to supply, not based on this child's independently evaluated need. This judgement has done serious damage to the judgements handed down in favour of my son, Jamie, in 2001."
Sinnott called on the Ministers, Mary Hanafin and Mary Harney, to explain why they were willing to hire two legal teams for 68 days at a cost of many millions to fight Seán' case, who only "wishes a basic, appropriate and suitable education."
Seán was diagnosed as having autistic spectrum disorder in October 2002, and it was stated he would require appropriate services from the health board and the Department of Education.
He has had home tuition funded by the department since December 2002. Funding was increased to 15 hours per week by January 2004. In November 2003, Seán was assessed by an educational psychologist who recommended that he have ABA tuition for 30 hours per week.
The court has yet to rule on whether the Ó Cuanacháin family should be awarded damages for delays in providing Seán with education between 2002 and 2004.
(Source: Irish Times, March 23, 2007)