‘We’re just waiting and waiting and he’s going backwards before our eyes’

Alex Maher is one thousands of children with disabilities waiting for crucial supports

 Helen Maher and her seven-year-old son Alex who has been waiting more than a year to get speech therapy.

Helen Maher and her seven-year-old son Alex who has been waiting more than a year to get speech therapy.


Helen Maher’s seven- year-old son Alex used to be able to say the word “mammy”.

That was more than two years ago. He was in pre- school at the time and had access to a range of specialised supports for children with autism, aimed at helping them reach their full potential. He also learned to do everyday things like zipping up his coat or getting on to a bicycle.

For the past two years, however, she has seen him regress in front of her eyes.

He can’t dress himself anymore. He isn’t able to cycle his bike. And much of his speech has slipped away or is heavily impaired.

“He’s been on a waiting list for speech and language therapy now for more than a year,” she said. “We’re just waiting and waiting, and all the time he’s going backwards before our eyes. We try to help at home . . . We’ve read books and do our best at home with him, but we’re not trained. We’re not professionals.”

It means that everything is a struggle, she says. Washing his hair, brushing his teeth or putting on his clothes all too often turn into screaming matches because of Alex’s sensory problems.

One of the biggest frustration is that Alex has heaps of potential.

He loves computers and movies. He’s a whizz on the iPad and has beaten the socks off his older brother on games such as Candy Crush.

But he is held back, his mother says, through problems with his speech and incontinence.

The constant fighting and campaigning for basic services that he should be getting takes its toll.

“It’s very hard, to be honest. You feel like you’re not getting any support. Lots of parents suffer from depression. I do myself. You have to get up everyday and fight for him.”

While the country is in the midst of a financial crisis, she says the failure to provide early intervention services is a false economy.

“If he gets the services he needs, there’s a chance he will go on to live independently and have a life of his own . . . If not, he’ll just be dependent and will cost the State even more in the long-term.”