Bill to implement autism plan accepted


The Government has accepted a Labour backbencher’s Bill to implement a national strategy on autism and end what Cork South West TD Michael McCarthy called a “postcode lottery system” for access to services.

In the Dáil yesterday, Minister for Health James Reilly accepted the “broad thrust” of Mr McCarthy’s autism Bill and acknowledged “the importance of having a clear strategy for the provision of services and supports which focuses on the needs of the individual”.

Dr Reilly has spoken previously about how one of his children with autism went on to graduate from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in genetics. In a moving speech he said that with early intervention there could be a bright future for many children with autism.

‘Amazing abilities’

“I hope many of those who believe the future has been darkened for them by a diagnosis like this will come to learn that very often it brings with it some amazing abilities as well,” he said.

The Minister stressed that autism, once diagnosed, became an issue of education “as there is little by way of medicine to address the learning and communication difficulties that arise”.

Mr McCarthy, who has spent a year working on the legislation, said it would put a statutory duty on the Government to publish a national strategy within two years of enactment. The Republic lags behind the North and England which have implemented legislation, while Scotland and Wales have implemented strategies, he said.

He also highlighted the frustration of parents with the lack of services. “A sort of postcode lottery system exists for access to autism services and equality of access is not being provided” for the condition which affects one in every 100 people.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on children Charlie McConalogue said about 600 children were born each year in Ireland with autism. And he questioned the Government’s failure to increase the number of support and learning resource teachers when there would be 450 extra classroom teachers for a 10,000 higher intake of pupils this year.

“An increased influx of students will result in an increased demand for special needs assistants,” he said.

Sinn Féin spokesman on health Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin welcomed the provision to include autism in the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act. He referred to a mother of a child with autism who won a case in 2007 against her local authority for disability discrimination, where staff compared the child’s disability “less favourably with physical disabilities”.

Charity syndrome

Independent TD Finian McGrath urged the Government and all TDs to “move away from the charity syndrome in regard to people with disabilities”. Many families indicated privately that it “gets up their noses when we talk about services with a charity mentality”, said the Dublin North-Central TD