A 13-year-old child had to wait seven years without crucial services before he was finally diagnosed this week with autism and began to receive critical supports and therapies, the Dáil has been told.
Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty cited the case of the child whose family first sought an assessment for him when he was six years of age as he highlighted the years-long delay in formal diagnosis for children with disabilities, including autism.
He clashed with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar as he condemned the system – it only provides supports once a child is formally assessed and diagnosed with a disability – as 2,500 children wait for assessment and a further 17,000 wait for initial contact.
Mr Varadkar had suggested a change to the system to allow children with obvious disabilities to receive therapies straight away. But Mr Doherty said the Tánaiste had been in office for a decade “but these children wait and wait and wait”.
Raising the issue during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, Mr Doherty said “thousands of children are being failed by the State, left in limbo on the waiting list for care that they’re entitled to”.
He said the 13-year-old boy whose case he highlighted has a rare syndrome involving physical and intellectual disability but had to wait from the age of six until he became a teenager for any services to be provided.
Mr Doherty claimed that the vast majority of the funding for disability in the budget “is to stand still, not to speed up assessment or the badly needed services that should follow these assessments”.
He added that one third of vacancies in the disability service have not been filled, and claimed there was no forward planning.
Mr Varadkar said additional resources have been provided for in the budget, but it was not just a matter of money. The recruitment and retention of staff was a challenge globally.
The Tánaiste suggested that a change could be made to the system where children with obvious needs should receive therapies straight away. He said that all TDs knew of cases of children who had to wait a very long time for such assessments. “Perhaps we need to consider a change in approach. At the moment you have to get your assessment of need before you get your therapy.”
Mr Doherty said the Government had been brought to court by these families and were found to be breaking the law on the assessment of needs. The Donegal TD said the situation was getting worse and the numbers of children waiting for assessment had increased by 500 to 2,500.
Minister of State for Disability Anne Rabbitte shouted across the chamber that Sinn Féin’s alternative budget for disability was just €135 million.