Yesterday the Irish Times printed an I wish essay a little nine year old girl called Rachel from Meath wrote about her brother Matthew.
She said “I wish, I wish, I wish my brother could be ‘healed of autism’”.
April is Autism Awareness Month and I am speaking here today to celebrate uniqueness, while also raising awareness of challenges faced by those with the condition.
Little Rachel explains in her own words that “when Matthew was two, he was diagnosed with autism. Autism has no cure.
Some children with autism can talk, understand and communicate, but Matthew can’t”.
The challenges faced by families with autism can and must be helped!
It is unacceptable to have nearly two year waiting lists for the assessment and diagnosis of autistic children. One of my constituents contacted me recently in a distressed state because she was told that since the waiting list was so long they would send her monthly emails about Occupational Therapy in the meantime.
This is not good enough; sending emails instead of therapy.
The National Education Welfare Board say they are overstrained but so too are these families.
Without early diagnosis parents cannot be assured that their child can access appropriate resource hours or SNA support.
This results in children enrolled in schools for September without adequate support.
Every parent should look forward to their child’s first day in school- be it pre or primary school. This is not the case for parents of children with autism.
With autism, early diagnosis is essential. Autism is a broad spectrum that deserves specific attention.
This specific attention should start with a standardised approach to early intervention across the country.
I believe it is also time we reconsidered the variety of teaching/learning methods being employed for children with autism.
At the moment, the level of early intervention can vary from county to county.
I would support the wider adoption of the ABA and Pecs model, which has proven to be very beneficial for certain children with autism.
Little Rachel in the Time’s letter specifically refers to Pecs and how his teacher has managed to greatly help Matthew communicate through pictures.
With improved and standardised early intervention and training we would be providing these children with better opportunities in life and also the state money in the long run.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal featured an article onPatrick Brophy, which illustrates how autism can be turned into a positive.
Patrick, who is from Dun Laoghaire constituency, was hired by the software firm SAP not just because of his qualifications, but also because of his autism. Well done Patrick on your wonderful achievement-you have broken down barriers.
The company values people with autism because of their attention to detail and the different perspective they can bring to the workplace.
Too often parents can be made to feel that their child’s condition is a burden which places a strain on the State.
Minister I am aware that the Autism Bill 2012 proposes the preparation of an autism strategy and a national framework for addressing the specific needs of adults with autism.
This is a very positive development.
I would urge for this to include widespread consultation especially with the parents of autism.
Their voices and the challenges that families like Matthew and Patrick are facing need to be heard.
Thank you Minister.
May I suggest that the current supports and programmes that you have just outlined be better communicated to the public and families who are affected by autism?
I have watched parents not knowing where to turn to if their child is showing signs of autism.
A joined up and standardised approach is badly needed that these families can rely on.
There is still a stigma associated with autism, which I believe is based on a lack of understanding about the condition.
Having autism should not automatically be viewed as a negative.
Minister, I would also like to briefly mention and raise awareness about Autism Assistance Dogs.
I recently made a representation on behalf of a constituent and her autistic son Ciaran asking why they do not qualify for income tax relief like blindness assistance dogs do.
Revenue replied by describing Autism Assistance Dogs as “companions” and therefore do not qualify.
They are much more than “companions”!
Ciaran’s dog Yanni is his safety, mobility and independence. I had the honour to spend time with Ciaran and see first-hand his behaviour transform when he was physically attached to his dog. I can assure you minister assisted autism dogs are way more than that
I would urge for this tax relief to be reconsidered.