“Meet my son Riley. He is funny, handsome, loving, and kind. He also has a diagnosis of Autism and a severe speech sound disorder.
I took this picture this week, he looks happy, right?
The truth is, this is my son at school, in my kitchen. You see, Riley has not been in school since December 2020, and that has nothing to do with Covid. Nothing at all.
In December, I was forced to remove my son from his school for reasons beyond my control. As you well know, parents of children with ASD fight tooth and nail to get a school place for their child, and I definitely did.
Riley’s school journey started out with a fight in the high court, which we won. Something which has haunted us since. So, as you can imagine, to remove your child after a fight like this does not come lightly. It comes with great stress, upset, and a lot of tears along the way.
Since December, my son has been at home full-time. He does not see his friends every day, he does not have a classroom, he misses out on the social and emotional aspect that school gives.
Since December, my son has been isolated.
Why? Because he is Autistic.
As a parent of a child with ASD in Ireland, you are forced to accept any school place you are given. If this place is not right for your child, there are no options. We do not get to choose where our kids go to school. We are expected to be thankful our kids have any place at all.
If Riley has been out of school since December, why am I only speaking out now? Well, I will be completely honest. For fear of what would be done to my son. Because, let’s face it, if you speak up, there are consequences. Always.
I don’t normally bow down to these fights. I am not normally a person who stays quiet. I will scream my son’s worth every day of my life, but this last year, the system has once again broken me down. This has been a fight going on behind the scenes for quite some time. A fight that should never have happened. Why should we as parents be afraid to speak out when we have the proof in our hands? Our children are not pawns to be played with. They are not less than any other child.
My son deserves to feel safe, to be treated with respect, and to be taught like every child his age. His diagnosis does not mean he deserves any less.
We are lucky we have an amazing team around us, be it a private team. A team who stood up and fought for my son when others wouldn’t. These are the people who came out and supported my family when I was on my knees with nowhere to turn. These are the people who found him what he needs. These are his people. The people who have helped me, week by week, to build his confidence again, and prepare him to re-enter the system in the coming months.
Riley was left with no option but home tutoring, something which I am certainly grateful to have. We have the best tutor in the world. Riley has learned more at home than he ever has in school, he willingly turns on his laptop every morning to speak to her. She is building my little boy back up after the negative experience he had with the school system. He is smiling again, he is laughing again, his speech has come back, and his anxiety has reduced hugely. She has given him back the confidence he had lost, and we will forever be in her debt for what she has done for us.
But the one question he asks me? ‘Will I have friends soon, mom?’
My son is smart, he loves to read, he can work a computer better than most adults, he can name the presidents of the United States in order, he loves space, and he has so much potential. Potential robbed from him because of the system in place.
Now, let me ask you: if a neurotypical child did not have a school place, would it just be accepted? I think not.
We, as parents, fight every day for new classes and special schools to be opened. But, we also need to fight for the established classes to be vetted regularly. For staff to be trained. For our kids needs to be met independently in a school setting. We need to fight for our kids to be taught to their level, for no more reduced school days, for better school facilities. We need to fight for our kids’ safety and dignity.
My son will begin a new school journey in September. One I can only hope will be a better one. But no mother should feel the way I do now about handing their child over and walking away, after previous experiences. No parent should have that breakdown of trust with the system.
Today, I ask you to fight for kids like my son, Riley.
He may be autistic, but he has a right to an education. An appropriate education.
And can you really tell me home tutoring is an appropriate education for any child?
We have a lot to talk about, and I have a 7-year-old little boy who is adamant he will be the President someday. Maybe you can sit down and have a chat. He might teach you a thing or two.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole Duggan, of Cork, Ireland. Follow her on Facebook here and Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Nicole:
‘They wipe away tears on the tough days, they laugh with them on the good days. They build a confidence in our children we could not do ourselves.’: Mom thanks special needs teachers for their hard work, ‘They don’t get enough credit’
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