Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Autism

Autism Policy: Discussion

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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On the bespoke model involving therapists going into schools, I have clearly said that we need to return therapists to special schools. That goes without saying. The Deputy is right. There are children in mainstream education who also need to access services. They are not getting that at this time. The parents who the Deputy mentioned and who he represents are already collectively clubbing together to pay for therapists to go into the schools. There are approximately 250 children across a number of schools where they have had to put the services in because they had not received services for such a long time. That is not the way the system should operate by any means - where children and families are left with no option. That is on my desk. A proposal has come in on it and I have not ruled anything out. I would prefer the system to work and for the local children's disability network team, CDNT, would make its way into the schools there and there would be a comprehensive approach, working with our partners in education to deliver it. At the same time, we cannot leave children without any therapies whatever. The local team there is coming back to me with a proposal on that.

The Deputy asked about summer provision in Longford. July provision needs to work differently from the way it does now. I will probably say something outrageous in stating this, but what is there is not working. July provision is not working. It should not fall within one sector. It needs to be cross-Government and cross-departmental working together. We should no longer call it July provision but it should be a summer provision, no different to what they have in Malta but we also need to use our trainee therapists, the third-year and fourth-year trainee therapists and our third-year trainee intellectual disability nurses. We need to work with our trainee behavioural therapists. It should not all be just a medical model but a more holistic model that we use the training.

We should be working with our partners in education to support that and our trainee teachers but it needs a more holistic approach to ensure that the system can work. There is a great pool of people. Let me not forget the special needs assistants, SNAs, either. Without burning anyone out, we should widen the pool to have more people be able to participate on it, particularly people who know the children, too. Summer provision is also a respite service. That is what it is to families. Children need that routine. We know, coming out of Covid when we did not have respite houses, that not having July provision sets children back. Parents understand this well. Regression takes place and bringing them back into the system in September does not work. We need to have continuity of intervention all the way around. In fact, it should be the choice of the parent when they send or do not send their child to a provision rather than when it is or is not available. We need to turn the narrative around on that.

I hope that next summer, working with the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister, Deputy Foley, across Departments, that we should have a different approach. We will also work with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Skills. We will use the therapists, we know where the pool is, and we will pay them. Let us be clear about this. If we were really ambitious with the therapists who are coming through, they could use that time as part of their accredited training that can be used as part of CORU. As I already told Deputy Tully, they are not getting the opportunity to work with children with disabilities. We need to create that pathway. If the summer provision is one of the models, we need to look at that.