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Autistic chidren shut out of Total Fitness school

Twelve autistic children were locked out of their school by the closure of a Total Fitness premises in a Dublin suburb.

The Jonix school for autistic children, aged between two and five, had been renting a number of rooms at the gym premises in Castleknock since 2004.

Children with autism become deeply upset by any disruption of routines and the closure of their school dealt them a significant blow, said parents and teachers.

Frantic efforts were made over the weekend to get the children back into the premises after they missed school on Thursday and Friday.

Parents of the children told the Herald they are delighted that the school can reopen after an upsetting number of days.

"The children need to get back to their school immediately as they can regress quickly if their education is disrupted," explained Carol Haslam whose three-year-old son Daniel attends the school.

Closure

Up to 100 jobs have been lost and thousands of gym members could be left out of pocket following the sudden closure of Total Fitness, which operated Dublin gyms at Castleknock, Malahide Road, and Sandyford.

It closed at midnight on Wednesday and a liquidator is being appointed.

Jonix school director Nicola Hansen said they had received no prior notice of the shutdown of the premises. "The first we heard was when one of the staff heard it on the news," she said.

Ms Hansen initially appealed to all schools and creches in the Dublin area to rent out a spare classroom for the displaced pupils and teachers until the end of the school year.

"This is very disruptive for the children. They find it very stressful to go somewhere temporary," she said.

The Castleknock school has three teachers and six tutors.

Mother Ms Haslam explains how vital the school is to autistic children.

"Daniel wasn't able to talk when he started at the school in September but he can carry on a conversation now. The school staff were amazing and really dedicated.

"Children like Daniel can forget what they've learned.

"Daniel and the other children can find any change quite scary and overwhelming," she said.

Panic

"I got a text from a teacher when I was at a St Patrick's Day parade telling me Total Fitness had closed down the building. I nearly got a panic attack. I just wanted to cry.

"Daniel isn't like a normal kid who would be delighted to get off school.

"He loves going to the school," she said.

aokeeffe@herald.ie