The awareness of mental health is growing each year; allowing people to openly talk about it is one thing, but actually helping kids learn to live with it is another. That’s where the Special Needs Assistants (SNA) come into the picture; not only by helping the kids in school but also by just being their support. It is difficult, to sum up, the role of the SNA as many go above and beyond.

Autism is one of the most common mental health diseases as they categorise it, but Autism is merely a disease that restricts students with their social skills. In today’s world, there are many students with Autism that integrate and are educated in the same mainstream schools with the same number of classes but just need that extra bit of guidance.

 “There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing them graduate from the third year,” says Miriam, who has been working as an SNA for about seventeen years. For children the biggest social activity is school. Getting the students to integrate and work in projects together would be beneficial for the Autistic kids, that’s why a number of schools have enlisted SNA’s as part of their staff.

The things the kids need the most is grounding and Miriam did this in a unique way: by starting a Breakfast club for the children at her school, “I saw that they were hungry in the morning and I would have loads of bread and cereal and juice for them to have,” she added. It was a good base for the children to get together and talk, just so that they know that they have a place. They all have different situations at home and “one of the biggest things you can do is give them a listening ear.” she added.

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Each child needs something from school, some may love the learning, some love to make friends but for the Autistic children they need a place to be open and comfortable. That happens in ‘The Unit’ an area that is filled with fish tanks and bean bags along with counsellors that help them improve their social skills. “The unit would be a godsend, say the kids were in the unit for six to seven classes, but they have regular classes too,” she added.

Like any job, being an SNA can be challenging at times; but in times of struggle, it’s them that need to keep a cool head, as they are the foundation and vital to the kid’s growth. “There have been really tough cases, sometimes they can’t handle class and throw things at you, but there have also been success cases; one kid went to Trinity college and is doing really well.” She added happily.

The number of children with mental health issues is on the rise all around the world. According to 2016 reports, one in every seven children has been born Autistic. With such a growth of mental health among kids, the SNA’s are an integral part of society. The Irish government recognises how important they are but still haven’t put them on a permanent contract and they can be asked to leave at the end of the school year. As such an integral part of a child’s growth, is it right to keep this job structure going or is it time for a referendum?