There are seven senses, not five, as I had thought.
Sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch - the famous five that have travelled round with me luckily for all of my life. Taken for granted, of course. The two I didn’t even know were there, are vestibular, which tells me whether I’m sitting up or lying down. And proprioception, which is at work now as I type on this keyboard.
Taking things for granted is, I suppose, what most of us do. Social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, are something we learn and take for granted. But for people with autism, such skills are not so easily attained.
In the past, if a child was diagnosed with autism they were put in a school that specialised in that field.
But now, the aim is to get children with autism into mainstream education as much as possible.
Ardee Educate Together National School has opened a new autism unit.
This is a feeder unit for the Ardee Community School autism unit which means children with autism can complete their formal education, primary and secondary, in Ardee.
“Not every town has that,” school principal Ann Middleton told me when I visited the unit.
The autism unit is made up of two special classes for autism and a sensory room. Each class has one special teacher and two special needs assistants to cater for six pupils.
Each child has their own individual education programme with attainable goals and targets which are specifically tailored towards their special needs.
Pupils may integrate into mainstream classes once they are ready to do so. There is also a fabulous new multi-sensory room complete with all the very latest and best equipment to stimulate each of the senses.
The sensory room is used by pupils in the special classes, but mainstream pupils with sensory needs also have access to the room and equipment.
Rather than placing children with autism in special schools, the new unit at Ardee Educate Together - which is now full - allows children to integrate from an early age.
“The objective is to have them fully integrated by the time they complete their primary education,” Ann Middleton said. “Some are already integrated into infants.”
The children travel on the same busses, attend the same concerts and sports days, and play together.
People with autism have an unusual sensitivity to light, sound, smell, taste. So the sensory room is at the heart of the unit and is accessible separately, from both classes.
The teachers are fully qualified in mainstream teaching with specialised training in autism.
“We are absolutely delighted to be able to provide these places for children with autism which are so badly needed,” said Principal Ann Middleton.
This is an exciting and important development for this growing school which will shortly move to a brand new purpose built school building beside St Brigid’s Hospital on the Kells Road Ardee.
Three sets of plans have been submitted to the Department of Education and once the go ahead is authorised, the selected plan will go to tender and the public consultation process, and then hopefully Ardee and mid-Louth will have its new state-ofthe-art school building.
Ardee Educate Together started with just 21 pupils back in 2002.
It now has 139 pupils, 11 teachers, and seven special needs assistants, and of course two of the teachers have specialised autism training.
The new school building - whichever plan is selected - has been designed to accommodate future extensions.
Dundalk Lions Club has very generously donated an ipad to the school and this will be used in the new class as there are many apps which can be used for autism.
Ardee Educate Together wish to convey their thanks and appreciation to Dundalk Lions Club for their generosity.
As school principal Ann Middleton has stated: Ardee now caters for children with autism from primary level right through to secondary level. Most towns don't have that. It is something we should all cherish.