Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Autism Empowerment Strategy: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this timely debate on autism. It is refreshing that the Minister of State has agreed to accept tonight's motion, accepting that we are in a very difficult position from the get-go.
The mooted withdrawal of the speech and language and occupational therapy from special schools has been paused. I welcome that initiative by the Minister of State and the HSE. While it is now being paused, what is happening next? Will the services of the occupational therapists and the speech and language therapists be retained within the special schools? It is crucial that they are retained within the schools. That is the structure for them and not having them off-site, giving rise to further transport issues. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure that the pause, which I welcome, becomes permanent.
There are structures for State-provided transport services and they should be delivered. The management of the school, the parents, the advocates on behalf of the children or the public representatives should not need to constantly contact the Department of Education over transport issues. They should be rolled out.
Given the challenges for people with disabilities and special needs, the State should be trying to break down the barriers to make it easier for them to access information and to access supports rather than making it more difficult. Collectively and individually we have made it more difficult and that attitude must change. If as a result of this debate, we agree to change the attitude by the State to families and people who have disabilities, it would be a significant step forward. It would be a psychological step forward on some of the issues which have been exposed recently. It is important to see that attitude change. On the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Disability Matters, we have a fantastic group of people working together. Their attitude is firmly to bring forward ideas to improve the lived experience of people with disabilities and those who live with them.