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‘Regression of special needs students has been ignored’

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*Jack Faulkes with his friend Dylan prior to the latest round of restrictions.

Parents of special needs students in Clare have said their children have retreated and regressed due to the disruptions to their school routines with one teenager refusing to leave his room for an eleven week period except to go to the bathroom and fill his water bottle.

Last week it was decided that schools would remain closed until January 31st. Certain special needs schools and classes are permitted to remain open however, for many special needs students like Julia Pennekamp (9) and Jack Faulkes (17) attending mainstream education, the onus lies on the parents, who state that they have received very little in terms of respite and support from the government since school closures began in March of last year.

Special school pupils are to return on alternate days from this coming Thursday.

“Leaving the house for Jack has always been a challenge because of the way he perceives people, they are abstract to him. Over the years, we have helped him with his regular routine in getting to school. Everything about getting out of the house is about getting ready and going to school. At school is where he learns his life skills and that’s where he gets his socialising from. He has always had an issue with germs and once the virus came it was off the charts. So much so that he wouldn’t leave his room for 11 weeks, only to fill up his water bottle and go to the bathroom,” Fiona Faulkes, mother to Jack Faulkes, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) told The Clare Echo.

Jack, who attends St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Spanish Point is part of an autism unit operated by the school. Each day, a teacher within the school emails Fiona and Jack with work to complete. Jack’s twin sister Amber Faulkes (17) has been taking online classes all week, completing a full school day remotely without any trouble. Fiona stated, “She is organised and happy to be on the computer. I have no fear of her. I am very anxious about Jack though. I know how long and how stubborn he will be about staying in his room. It’s that regression that I see. He has one friend, Dylan, from the autism unit in the school and they ring each quite often. Besides chats I have with him that is the only contact he has”.

Nicole Pennekamp, mother to Julia Pennekamp (9), who attends Doolin National School, exclaims that there is nothing for her daughter in mainstream education despite the excellent efforts of the school itself. She explains that since October, her daughter’s anxiety has gone through the roof. Julia, who like Jack, has ASD spends 20 minutes each day with her SNA online. “With her routine completely disrupted, there has been a massive impact in the house here. There is no respite for both of us. Due to the time of year and our inability to get out for walks, it is more difficult for her to focus on her work. She needs activity breaks during her work, to run it off. The school is extremely helpful; however, I am waiting for someone to give me some respite hours per week, which isn’t possible at the moment due to the number of cases,” Nicole commented.

Fiona believes that services are underfunded for parents of special needs students and feels that there could have been more recognition and guidance from government. “There was loads of time and information. They failed to anticipate this and have no Plan B in place. What we are looking for is advice and access to different ways of learning. Some students can handle it, some can’t. There needs to be support there for those that can’t,” Fiona highlighted. She also says that there is very little access to local services and that Jack hasn’t been able to avail of therapy for the last four years, due to a large backlog.

Nicole, who shares similar sentiments felt the Government have failed to consider the regression. “Even if every parent kept up with schoolwork, there is still regression because there is so much more to be done and that’s not happening at the moment”.

An avid reader from a young age, Cian’s love of the archives has been shared by Clare Echo readers who enjoy his Reeling in The Years section. Charles Dickens, Terry Pratchett and Michael Crichton were his favourites writers in his younger years while he was always a fan of studying the opinion columns in The Irish Independent. A past pupil of Lissycasey National School and St Flannan’s College, he is currently completing his final year studies at the University of Limerick in New Media and English. From September, he will be commencing a Masters Degree in Journalism at UL.

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