The mother of two children with intellectual disabilities has told of her fears that plans to reopen special needs schools will not go ahead as planned on February 11th.
Elaine Healy from Mallow, told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that she had been thrilled to hear the news, but was trying not to get her hopes up.
"I'm absolutely thrilled, I would be absolutely delighted if it goes ahead - I'm really trying not to get my hopes up in case it doesn't, but it seems to be optimistic and to be honest it's a lifeline to us - in this house we're desperate for the children to get back to school.
"It's been really hard having them at home," Ms Healy said, adding this lockdown had been the most difficult to date.
"Having the two dates for schools reopening and having them whipped away again without warning, it broke my heart and it just took away all hope and I think this one is really hard on people."
When asked about the possibility of a gradual, part-time return to schools, she said she was delighted that they were going back at all.
"I'd gladly take one or two days if that's what it takes for them to build it up and I think it might be no harm for some kids that will struggle.
My kids will be delighted to go back to school, and they'll slip into that routine again very quickly.
"My kids will be delighted to go back to school, and they'll slip into that routine again very quickly, but a lot of children on the spectrum will find it hard because staying at home has become their new routine so easing into school might help.
"I was very surprised that they didn't keep special schools open after what we saw last time - so many documentaries, so many parents that went public about how extremely hard it was. I thought that this time no matter what happened with the country, they'd keep the schools open because a lot of other countries have managed to keep the schools open, especially special schools."
Ms Healy said she had been prepared for another lockdown as long as the children could go to school. "I was really, really shocked that they're not in school, they've completely been abandoned - it essentially means they've had no education for the best part of a year now.
The fact that they've missed out on almost a whole year - I think it's disgraceful that they've left the children with nothing.
"When you have kids on the spectrum they need all the help they can get, they need all that early intervention because what you put into them now is what will stand to them when they're older.
"The fact that they've missed out on almost a whole year - I think it's disgraceful that they've left the children with nothing."
The mother of two – a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy, both with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and intellectual disabilities explained that for children on the spectrum routine was the most important thing for them.
"That's been completely taken away from them - there's no such thing as remote learning in this house, the kids are just too severe, they just don't have the understanding, they don't really transfer over that school can be at home as well, this is a home environment and it just became too upsetting trying to do any homeschooling with them because of the lack of understanding, we can't explain to them that they're not in school, but they have to do the same work.
"We might be their parents, but we're not teachers, and we're certainly not special education teachers, so the fact that everything has been taken away from them, it's just been heartbreaking for them.
"School is actually both their favourite place to go so it's been devastating and has had an awful impact on all of us."
Ms Healy added that the children have regressed, they have stopped eating and are both now on medication. Both also have sleeping problems.
"We've had problems with toileting even though they've been toilet trained for a few years. It's affected everything with me, my own mental health - I need a break during the day from the kids, so I can breathe and get myself together to deal with what we have to do especially when they're not sleeping at night.
"When they're not sleeping at night and not going to school it's literally 24 hour care for the two of them - it's been very, very hard, not being able to see family, not getting support from anyone - all my family is in Cork as is Brian's which is well outside our 5km so we don't have any supports."