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'Abigail is regressing without supports for ASD kids', says dad

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Mark and Claire Cahill at their home in Raheny with daughter Abigail. Photo: Frank McGrath

Mark and Claire Cahill at their home in Raheny with daughter Abigail. Photo: Frank McGrath

Mark and Claire Cahill at their home in Raheny with daughter Abigail. Photo: Frank McGrath

A Dublin family have said their young daughter, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), has "totally regressed" during lockdown after being left without any of her usual supports.

Five-year-old Abigail Cahill's parents, Mark and Claire, who also have three younger sons, expressed their concern at the serious effect that being suddenly withdrawn from school services is having on children with additional needs.

Meltdowns

Abigail, from Raheny, who also has a speech delay, had been flourishing in a "fantastic" pre-school called the Orchard in Donnycarney, and last March her parents heard she had got a primary school place in one of the six-pupil classrooms.

Then lockdown was imposed and Abigail began regressing.

"She thrives on schedules and routine, and that routine is completely gone, so she's struggling," Mr Cahill said.

"There's a lot of support from her school. There's a weekly call with them and the teachers have dropped in books and that's all very positive.

"But it's affecting her, absolutely. She misses the interactions. The meltdowns have become more severe and a lot of that is just frustration.

"She's struggling, and the concern is that when she goes back to school in September, all the progress she had made will be gone.

"In just 11 or 12 weeks, I'd say she has regressed a full year in that short period of time."

Like many children, Abigail cannot understand the concept of social-distancing, so her parents have taken her out only a couple of times since lockdown began.

It could also be an issue when she returns to school, given that a special needs assistant (SNA) has to be in close contact with the children in their care.

"If she sees the playground, for example, she'll want to go in and can't understand why she can't right now, so that could prompt a meltdown. She also runs away a lot," Mr Cahill said.

Abigail mainly plays by herself in the back garden and will spend hours bouncing around on the trampoline while her brothers play around her.

Her dad said he has been disappointed that the plight facing children with special educational needs has not been raised more at government level during lockdown.

He also wants clarification on how the July Provision, which allows for SNAs to give up to 20 hours of extra tuition, will be implemented.

When asked about the scheme in the Dail this week, Education Minister Joe Mc-Hugh said he was "open" to the idea of expanding it amid huge concern from parents.

However, Mr Cahill feels more urgent action is needed to help children like Abigail before September.

"The sooner we get tutoring or one-on-one help for Abigail, the better. Children like her were always an after-thought for this Government," he said.