THREE West Cork mums have launched a campaign to develop the first special school in West Cork.
And they’re looking for other parents of children with additional needs to join them, to find out precisely what’s needed, and in what location.
The campaign is spearheaded by Laura O’Mahony, Emily O’Driscoll and Emma Howlin, who all live in the greater Clonakilty area and are parents of children with autism.
Their kids, all with different needs, currently attend either an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) unit, or a special school in Cork city.
But they’re aware that once they finish at primary level, there’s no clear pathway of education for them – anywhere.
Their mission is to set up a special school in West Cork so that children and teens don’t have to relocate or make long journeys for an education.
‘We have no choice but to plan for their futures now,’ said Laura.
Her five-year-old son Max, who is non-verbal, will attend St Killian’s School in Mayfield in Cork city in September, which will mean a daily three-hour round-trip bus journey.
He had attended an early intervention unit, attached to a mainstream school, locally.
‘We made the difficult decision to remove him, even though we knew that he may not have any school place, but we felt that we had no choice. It simply wasn’t working. He couldn’t keep up with his peers and the demands were too high,’ said Laura.
Max started in The Lighthouse Centre in Ballincollig this year, where Laura said he made huge progress.
‘But as it’s only early intervention, we had to find a special school for September. I wrote to every school in the county. Finally we got an answer and Max will start in a new class in St Killian’s in Mayfield in September.
‘We know how lucky we are to receive such a place. It’s sad to say that you must be so grateful to have a school place, even if it means your five-year-old has to travel over an hour in the morning just to get to school,’ she said.
Emma Howlin’s daughter Tessa (9) attends St Killian’s, having previously attended mainstream school and an ASD unit locally.
‘I can’t explain the difference being in the right setting has made. It’s outstanding. Children like Tessa are destroyed in mainstream school and being in a unit damaged her self-esteem,’ said Emma.
Emily O’Driscoll’s daughter Maria (7) attends an ASD unit in the local gaelscoil, which suits her needs.
‘But the elephant in the room is that she can’t stay there forever, and what happens after that?’ asked Emily.
‘When you have a kid, you know you have to fight for them, and when they’ve got special needs the battle never stops. These are battles you never even knew existed, and education is the big one. We have to start planning ahead for our kids’ futures now.’
Laura, Emily and Emma are appealing to other parents to come forward and tell them about their own children’s needs by emailing [email protected]
‘Together we can make this happen,’ said Laura.