Mother gives cautious welcome to Trust move

A MOTHER has given news that her autistic son’s school may be provided with a therapy assistant, following a long battle for more special needs care, a “cautious” welcome.

Hilary Burke’s five-year-old son lives with moderate autism and attends St Mary’s Primary School in Banbridge. But the mother-of-three said she has battled for his health needs to be addressed since he moved schools in September last year.

Last week Hilary told the Leader the Southern Education and Library Board cancelled meetings to discuss the special needs provision available for her son.

The news that a therapy assistant may now attend the school for one day a week is “a step in the right direction”, according to the local mother.

“This is a good first step,” said Hilary. “I would say I’m cautiously pleased.

“Although I’m not sure if it’s a temporary measure or how long it will last.”

Hilary said she has long argued for more provision for her son’s needs, and came to the compromise of a hybrid worker - a classroom assistant with occupational health training - which was to be part-funded by the Board and Southern Health Trust.

A spokeswoman said, “The Trust continues to work with our Education colleagues to ensure that the needs of children with autism spectrum disorder are met whilst at school.

“We will be in a position to comment in more detail whenever our proposals are fully developed and agreed by all involved.”

It is understood there may need to be approval from the Board before a therapy assistant can enter the school.

While pleased that there has been some progress on the issue, Hilary said she remains disappointed with the Board’s actions.

“It doesn’t absolve the Board from its reponsibility in this - it has a responsibility to these children. I would like to know what the Board is going to do.

“I still feel a meeting is crucial to sorting this out.”

Upper Bann MP David Simpson has met with Hilary, other parents and the staff at St Mary’s in the past number of months with a view to helping to reslove the issue.

This is a very welcome move on the part of the Southern Trust,” said Mr Simpson. “And I am pleased that it has now received an initial positive response from the SELB.

“It would mean that St Mary’s along with the other units would have access to a therapy assistant one day per week.

Mr Simpson paid tribute to school principal Des O’Hagan and Hilary Burke for their dedication on the issue.

“I would encourage people to not to give up or walk away but to keep on fighting.”

The MP added his disappointment in the role played by the Board.

“This move by the Southern trust, welcome as it is, should not be allowed to take the spotlight off the way in which Board has failed these children. The Board needs to face up to its responsibility in this matter.

“This move by the Southern Trust is a welcome step in the right direction, but the Board needs to come to the mark as well.”