Adam Harris, chief executive of AsIAm

Mayo call for greater autism supports and services

A Mayo TD has given full support to AsIAm’s ‘Say Yes to Autism Acceptance’ campaign that will run throughout the month of April.

Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh stated: “Today on World Autism Awareness Day and through AsIAm’s ‘Say Yes to Autism Acceptance’ campaign during the month of April, there is an important opportunity to highlight the many barriers that people with autism face on a regular basis and which need to be changed.

“We have an opportunity to break down barriers and create a greater understanding of autism, as well as the challenges people with autism and their families face.

"Every experience of autism is very unique, bringing different individual skills, attributes and characteristics.

"I want to thank everyone who is sharing their story today and who is raising awareness.

“The government needs to do much more to ensure that people with autism can live their lives fully and equally.

"Two years ago, the Dáil backed Sinn Féin’s proposals for an Autism Strategy and a specific Autism Committee in the Oireachtas.

"However, the government has still not acted on this.

“Sinn Féin will continue to press the Government on this and ensure that people with autism get the services and supports they should be entitled to. There can be no more delays.

“Autistic adults face huge gaps in the provision of crucial services, particularly in finding work, securing social welfare or living independently.

“Children face lengthy waiting times for assessment and struggle to locate appropriate school places.

"We see this every day with the Assessment of Need process, which is failing people with autism and their families.

“While there is a legal requirement to carry out an Assessment of Need within six months, the average waiting time, as of July 2020, was 19 months.

"Up to 5,000 children were waiting longer than the law permits for an assessment.

“And this is only the tip of the iceberg as, while the law stipulates that an assessment should be carried out within this timeframe, we know this is often not the case.

"There is no statutory timeframe of access to the supports, services or therapies stipulated as needed within the assessment.

“Recently, RTÉ Investigates lifted the lid on the scandal of how the Department of Health has been collecting secret dossiers on the families of children with autism who had taken legal cases against the government.

"This was appalling and never should have happened. There needs to be an independent non-statutory investigation into what happened, similar in scope and duration to the Scally Inquiry.

“The issues affecting people with autism are long-standing and they have been battling many years for their rights and entitlements. The government needs to step up and act.”

In a statement issued this afternoon, AsIAm, Ireland's National Autism Charity, has welcomed the announcement by Minister of State for Disability, Anne Rabbitte, that she will establish a working group to lead the drafting and implementation of an Autism Innovation Strategy.

The Minister made the announcement at AsIAm's World Autism Day webinar.

In recent years, many countries have drafted Autism Strategies which aim to increase public understanding, improve access to appropriate training and involve the autism community in service development and policy in areas such as employment, education, housing, access to justice and healthcare.

Since 2012 there has been two separate pieces of legislation put forward for such a Strategy in Ireland and the Dail passed a Sinn Fein Motion on the need for a strategy unanimously, on World Autism Day 2019.

The issue was raised in the Seanad by Senator Michael Carrighy as recently as this week. AsIAm has been campaigning for many years on the issue and sought general election manifesto and programme for government commitments on the issue.

Responding to the announcement, AsIAm CEO Adam Harris said "Since Minister Rabbitte, TD has come into office AsIAm has engaged a number of times with her on this issue and it is most welcome that the minister has committed to developing a National Strategy which has been long sought for by, and promised to, the autism community.

"Ireland has been left behind in the area of autism policy and in many parts of the country vital supports in areas such education, healthcare continue to be either non existent or cracking at the seams.

"This announcement is critical at a time when autistic people and our families have been shook by the revelations of the RTE Investigates programme and our community has suffered greatly in the context of the loss of supports and routines arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Trust, confidence and wellbeing are at crisis point and directly involving autistic people and our families in creating a better Ireland for our community is a vital step towards a more open, transparent and inclusive approach to autism moving forward."

The Autism Innovation Strategy will be a cross-departmental plan with a Working Group chaired by the Minister and with direct consultation and involvement of autistic people and their families.

This work will compliment the existing Autism Programme Board which is working to improve pathways for and awareness of autism within HSE services.

"Whilst today's commitment is an important step, we will now need to see tangible progress in putting the strategy in place.

"Any strategy that is to succeed must have clear targets and goals, appropriate funding and must directly empower autistic people and reflect our priorities. AsIAm will continue to campaign to see this through.”