The State kept dossiers on children with autism

It is quite incredible to read that sentence back, that the government of a developed country like Ireland kept dossiers on children with autism. It reads like something you would have expected to hear coming out of East Germany.

RTÉ Investigates reported that the ‘secret dossiers’ were for use in legal cases. Shane Corr is an incredibly brave man who has done a service to his State – whether his State will acknowledge it or not. Without the consent of parents, the Department of Health amassed sensitive information including medical records, educational reports and personal information relating to the child in question.

The Department of Health used the totality of its connections and resources to gain critical information that would allow them to win cases against children suing the State for vindication of their constitutional rights. We all know the stories of the goons hired by Insurance firms to track people over fraudulent insurance claims, who would have thought the State would put the Insurance cartel to shame in what they are prepared to do to win?

My parents had to bring a case against the State to vindicate my brother’s constitutional right to an education. They had to sue the Irish government along with hundreds of other parents to fight for the provision of education for children with autism. To ensure my brother got the resources and supports he needed, when his own country provided him with none, we had to emigrate to Britain for a time. When we returned from Britain, the fight was still ongoing. Education for autistic children was something the government had to be dragged kicking and screaming into, and have had to be cajoled on many times since.

The Stepping Stones School where my brother attended and my parents helped found is now a rotting building which is a menace to the health and well-being of students and teachers. The dire state the School has been run down to was raised in the Dáil by Aontú Leader Deputy Peadar Tóibín:

“I spoke to parents and family members about the Stepping Stones school in my own county of Meath, where teachers and children are packed like sardines into tiny prefab classrooms with rotting floors, holes in the wall, and a rat infestation. One parent who helped found the school, told me of how the school had originally been dubbed the “School of Dreams” but has become increasingly a house of horrors as the building becomes increasingly unsafe for staff and student alike.”

It took a TD raising the decline of a special needs school into rats and ruin for the government to do something – after years of false promises. I am very pleased to report that the school is to be now permanently relocated to Maynooth in the old Post-Primary. I would like to thank Deputy Tóibín and all the other elected representatives, parents and people who fought for what was right.

That is only one example of the mistreatment and discrimination children with all manner of disabilities must face each and every day. On one occasion, a child with autism was expelled from a Montessori for being ‘too much trouble’ because he got bored with the curriculum. Another, was of a parent who chose not to invite a child with an intellectual disability because they would be too difficult to manage.

These are not isolated examples, but are parts of everyday life which should be unacceptable but are too easily normalised. Fearless advocates such as Nicole Duggan help to bring these stories to light and fight every day for a better country for our beloved brothers and sisters with disabilities to live in.

The collection of dossiers on these children by their own government shows that these attitudes are rooted in our government. Lest we forget the use of autism as a slur by Catherine Noone, or the Minister with responsibility for Special Education, Josepha Madigan, differentiating between ‘normal children’ and children with additional needs in the Dáil. The collection of dossiers is the most sinister manifestation of these attitudes – that we know of.

These dossiers contained the intimate struggles of the child documented by their own Doctor, the relationship of the child with their siblings, the fears of parents for the future. Why did the State amass this information if they did not intend to use it? If parents in a particular case had expressed in private financial concerns, why would the State not use this information to drag out the suit, aggravate those financial concerns, and force them to settle?

If the State was privy to confidential, patient-doctor notes that the child had a difficult relationship with siblings, why would they not use these facts to argue against the child’s right to be educated in an environment with other children? These dossiers were not collected to sit on a shelf unused or for some benign purpose. Did these dossiers help the State win cases or settle for less? When and how was this information within used? If this is what a State is willing to do to deny children with special needs an education, what have they done elsewhere?



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