Reilly recalls son's autism diagnosis


MINISTER FOR Health James Reilly spoke movingly yesterday about how one of his children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder went on to obtain an honours degree at Trinity College Dublin.

“We were told when he was three that he was atypical. I could bloody well see he was different. What a diagnosis,” he remarked.

He recalled how he and his wife were also told by a psychologist that their child was mentally handicapped. He would remember to his dying day, he said, the last line of that person’s report. It said: “Mother was advised to be of good cheer.”

But his son started talking when he was five, went to mainstream school at age 11 and then went to Trinity and now has an honours degree in genetics.

Dr Reilly was speaking at the publication of best practice guidelines for the assessment and diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorders for children and adolescents. They have been drawn up by the Psychological Society of Ireland.

He said the impact of an autism diagnosis on families was terrifying and he knew this from personal experience. “It’s a life changer for them,” he said.

It was important, he added, that a diagnosis was solid and safe and this was why the new guidelines were so important.

Asked how his son could have gone on to achieve so much, he said he put it down to “his mother”.

He said his wife Dorothy tried every “ology” going. And he warned there were charlatans out there only too willing to take money from desperate parents, and people had to be protected from them.

Much had changed in recent years, Dr Reilly added, but he once spent a year arguing with an inspector from the Department of Education trying to convince him there was such a thing as autism. Then after the inspector accepted the argument, he claimed it did not necessarily mean a different educational approach was required.

All autism stories can’t end in glory and success, the Minister added, but standardised systems had to be put in place to ensure children reached their full potential, whatever that might be.

He said he hopes to ensure a senior person is appointed to integrate services for those with autism and special needs across the three departments of health, education and children.