Warm welcome for new Athlone Autism unit

The opening of a new autism unit at Athlone Community College this week is the culmination of a year-long campaign by local politicians and parents to have extra school places provided at post primary level in the greater Athlone area for children with autism.

the new unit, which is incorporated into the current campus of Athlone Community College, will cater for six students and has been wholeheartedly welcomed by the Chairperson of the school's Board of Management and local Fianna Fáil Cllr, Frankie Keena.

Cllr Keena described the new facility as being “badly needed” and has called on other secondary schools in the Athlone region to follow suit and work towards the provision of autism units. “It is important that parents have a choice in where they send their children to be educated and there is still a demand in the Athlone area for more school places, so I would like to see more schools providing autism units” he said.

Cllr Keena paid tribute to the local lobby group, Autism Parents Athlone for spearheading the campaign to provide more school places for autistic children. He also commended the Principal of Athlone Community College, Eileen Donohoe, and his fellow members on the school's Board of Management for their work on the provision of the new unit and also praised the input of the Longford Westmeath Education and Training Board (LWETB).

He said this week's opening of a new autism unit at Athlone Community College is “the first step” on the road towards the provision of what it is hoped will be a dedicated purpose-built unit on the campus for students with autism, incorporating a total of three classes.

Athlone Community College is now one of three secondary schools in the greater Athlone areas to provide an autism unit. Moate Community School first established a dedicated ASD unit called the Uisneach Centre on its campus in 2018, which has three classes of six students each, while Coláiste Chiaráin in Summerhill also has an ASD unit catering for 12 students in two classes. Classes in both schools are at capacity for the current school year.