Autistic people still facing barriers, new report finds

Six in 10 people associate autism with negative traits, like ‘difficulty making friends’

Six in 10 Irish people associate autism with negative characteristics, according to a report published by AsIAm, Ireland’s national autism charity.

Just 10 percent of autistic people who were surveyed as part of the research believe workplaces are inclusive, and just over half experienced discrimination.

Almost three quarters believed that the Government does not have a co-ordinated approach when it comes to autism, and AsIAm is calling for a National Autism Strategy.

The Same Chance Report is based on two separate surveys conducted in the last six months. The first, conducted by Core Research, assessed the public’s attitude towards autism by surveying a representative group of 1,000 adults. The second survey reflects the views of 944 parents, carers and autistic people over the age of 18.

Six in 10 Irish people associate autism with negative characteristics, such as “difficulty making friends”, “not making eye contact”, and “no to little verbal communication”.

The report found that people were less likely to know about the positive characteristics of autism, such as honesty, logical thinking and detail oriented.

Many people who took part in the second survey spoke about barriers to accessing healthcare, education, employment and housing.

Long waiting lists for getting an Assessment of Need, occupational and speech and language therapy were mentioned in the report, as were the difficulties autistic children and adults faced when using mental health services.

The lack of school places for autistic children, the lack of SNA hours and other educational supports were also highlighted.

Speaking at the launch of the report on Wednesday, Blessing Dada, an autistic content creator and mental health advocate, said intersectionality is important when it comes to autism.

‘Nobody cares’

She has struggled to find other black Irish people who are autistic. Growing up, she did not receive any supports from the HSE, adding that many first generation people are the same.

She thinks the State needs to do more to reach ethnic minorities to raise awareness of what autism is, and what supports are available. “They might view autism as a downfall or a curse to the family, there might be a lot of underdiagnoses because of that. There’s not enough diverse education material.”

Many first generation children help their parents navigate different government departments, forms and applications, sometimes providing translation, she adds.

“A lot of parents will learn about Irish society through their kids. It’s important that the government reach out to these parents, the burden shouldn’t be on the kids to find the services.”

Crystal Swing’s Dervla Burke O’Connor said the entire system needs to be overhauled. She has a five-year-old son, Paul, who is autistic and non-verbal. “He has a lot of challenge . . . It feels like nobody cares at times. It’s a hidden shame in Ireland. My child is not getting the respect he should be shown by our State and Government.”

Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan said she is committed to improving autistic children’s access to education and recognised more work needs to be done with regards to school place availability.

She also announced the publication of a new guidance document to help schools support the needs of autistic students.