Government handling of autism services “a national scandal” says Smith

Mike Finnerty 02 Apr 2024

Labour’s Health Spokesperson Duncan Smith has called on Government to implement a national autism strategy and address “excessive” waiting periods for autism assessment services.

The Labour TD said that the current waiting times for autism assessments are “nothing short of a national scandal.”

“Early intervention is paramount for children with autism, and these delays are unacceptable. Families are left in limbo, unable to access the support and services their children desperately need.”

He said that the cost of living crisis is a major factor for families who are supporting a child with autism or a disability.

As a result of long waiting lists, Smith says that families are now turning towards the private sector to seek assessments and support.

“The current approach is deeply inequitable; this cannot continue.”

“Government must prioritise providing fair and timely assessments for all children, regardless of their financial situation.”

Census statistics from 2016 showed that 66,000 people, or what was then 1.4% of Ireland’s total population, had some form of an intellectual disability.

Statistics surrounding the prevalence of intellectual disabilities have not yet been published for the 2022 census, but it is now estimated that there are now over 70,000 people in Ireland with an intellectual disability.

In February, Government published a public consultation on the autism innovation strategy which looked to get public feedback on Government’s planned autism strategy, but Smith dubbed it “lip service” and called for more urgency on Government’s behalf.

In Fine Gael’s election manifesto for 2020, the party said they were “committed” to investing further into ASD early intervention classes, for children aged 3-5, while Fianna Fáil’s manifesto said they would develop an “autism empowerment strategy” as well as “ensuring the recruitment of additional therapists has a real impact with an emphasis on early intervention” and the allocation of a further €2 million in funding.

“Families need tangible support, and they need it now,” the Swords TD said.

“It is time for the Government to implement a National Autism Strategy, bringing Ireland in line with other European countries. We cannot continue to fail our children and their families. Every child deserves equal access to support and services, and it is the Government’s responsibility to make this a reality.”

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