Pictured cutting the ribbon at the new autism classrooms and aensory garden at Ratoath Junior NS were principal, Miriam Fox, Mary Wallace (chairperson, board of management), Minister Thomas Byrne. Photo: David Mullen/www.cyberimages.net

New autism classrooms at Ratoath Junior NS were ‘worth waiting for’

The chairperson of the board of management of Ratoath Junior National School said she believed "lessons could be learned" from their experience in providing special classrooms for children with autism at the school.

Former TD, Mary Wallace made the comments at the official opening of the new autism unit at the school on Friday.

Among those in attendance were Minister Thomas Byrne, Senator Sharon Keogan, local councillors Nick Killian and Gillian Toole, Pat Daly from the local GAA club as well as members of the board of management and parents association.

Addressing elected representatives, Ms Wallace asked them to take two messages back: "The first message is that it is truly worth waiting for the proper facilities and whilst some amount of pressure can be exerted to accept children without having the correct facilities, in our opinion this is never the correct option and today’s facilities demonstrate the importance of getting it right from the start."

She also spoke about their belief that the unit should cater for those within the parish and not be filled with children from outside the area.

"Our second message is that children who fulfil the criteria should not have to travel outside of their parish to avail of these facilities. We firmly believe that there is no point in filling Ratoath places with children from 20 miles away and then the following year bringing Ratoath children 20 miles away because their places are filled.

"The plan should be to facilitate children in attending school in their own area along with their siblings and it is the boards’ view that this aspect of inclusion is equally important."

Ms Wallace said classrooms had been opened with local children and said they also have extensive interest from parents in the Ratoath community for 2024 and expect to be offering places for next year in early January in line with their admissions policy.

"The junior school board is delighted to be able to facilitate the need of local children in the Ratoath community. The special classes in the central location of the building has added a new dimension to Ratoath Junior NS and has enhanced the school setting for all. We thank the Government for approving the funding and all who supported us to reach this great day," she said.

Facilities in the newly opened autism unit include two ASD classrooms; a sensory room with sensory grass and liquid flooring, colour changing bubble tube and fibre optics, interactive wall panels and relaxing projectors; a play space with ball pool, swings and balance activities; a sensory pod with ‘under the sea’ themed wrap and interactive panels; 75” interactive flat screens in each classroom, while each classroom has a 'quiet area' including colour changing LED lights and wood panelled ceiling.

There is also keypad controlled security with video call and interactive screens to the main office and wheelchair accessible toilets

Outside, there is a state-of-the-art outdoor play area with basket swing, slide, sunken trampoline and merry-go-round and a calm outdoor seating area for story time and planters for a sensory garden.