On World Autism Awareness Day, David Stanton, Fine Gael TD for Cork East has called for the development of a comprehensive autism strategy at national level. This strategy would inform policy making and help to ensure a multi-departmental government approach to services and supports for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

“I understand that work is already underway with the National Disability Authority and various Government departments to develop an autism strategy which will operate as part of the National Disability Strategy. National and international estimates suggest that the incidence of autism in our population is approximately 1 in 100. This means that almost half a million people here have some form of autism, which can range from mild to very severe or profound. I am anxious that all these people have access to suitable health, education, employment, housing and other supports”, said Deputy Stanton.

“On a weekly basis I am approached by parents of children who are either waiting for an assessment by the HSE under the Disability Act for their child or who are having difficulty in accessing appropriate health or education services. Waiting lists for ASD assessments in the HSE Cork North Lee area are very long and parents are understandably concerned about the delays as early intervention is crucial for any child with ASD. Waiting lists can also be long for appropriate clinical services such as occupational therapy or speech and language therapy once a diagnosis has been received.

“Accessing education services can also be a problem for ASD children and children with other disabilities. While home tuition is available through the Department of Education and Skills, many parents of children with moderate to severe ASD would prefer if their child could attend a special school or a special class in a mainstream school. I understand that Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) are working very hard on the ground but if schools do not have space for a special class then home tuition is the only option.

“Minister O’Sullivan advised me that she is aware of the demand nationwide for special schools, and that special classes including early intervention classes, in primary and post primary schools are being increased. The number of children being diagnosed with autism is increasing year on year and I am anxious to ensure that these children can attend the most appropriate class or school. I am particularly concerned about appropriate places for ASD children at second level, which will need to be increased to meet future need. Extra resources are also required to provide proper services and supports for over 18s.

Deputy Stanton also raised the need for further sections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, 2004 to be implemented. He also asked that any interested partiessubmit their views on the implementation of the Disability Act, 2005 to the Oireachtas Justice and Equality Committee which he chairs.