Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 April 2021

National Autism Empowerment Strategy: Motion [Private Members]


6:40 pm

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. It affects thousands of families throughout the country. Like my colleague, Deputy Wynne, I am proud to say that I am an autism mammy. There is a perception that living with someone with autism is a constant burden and that it is always difficult or draining. That is simply not true. People with autism are among the most amazing people we meet but they face challenges on a daily basis. The real difficulties do not come from diagnosis or from the person in question but from outside. They come from a society that fails to fully understand what autism is and from a system that continually puts obstacles in the way of those affected. It is a system that to some minds is almost designed to stop these individuals from reaching their full potential. That is a damning thing to have to say. However, as a parent, I can tell the House that I have seen it first-hand. I have walked that walk and I know what it is like. When we take away the avenues to success of a person we take away that person's power and voice. That is absolutely unforgivable.

If the Minister is to focus on one area it should be on pathways to education, employment, healthcare and independent living. These are absolutely essential as are early assessment and integration in our school system at a young age. We need to protect the rights of these people whether in a school or workplace setting. Exploitation and harassment are taking place and this needs to stop.

I do not have time to go through the rest but I will leave the House with one thought. One of the most difficult conversations I have ever had with another parent of an autistic child was one that started with her telling me that she could not go to bed because she did not know how she was going to face the following day. That is the level of impact a diagnosis of autism or waiting on a diagnosis of autism can have on the parent of a child.

I have had conversations with grandparents not from my constituency but from throughout the country. These people have called me looking for guidance. They have asked whether there is a book available or something that can help them to help their children in supporting their children in turn. There is a major gap and it needs to be filled. We can do better and we have to do better. It begins by committing to ourselves that we will be better. No child, whether my child or that of Deputy Wynne, deserves to be classed as a second-class citizen.


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