Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Autism Empowerment Strategy: Motion [Private Members]
I thank my Labour Party colleagues for tabling the motion. It further endorses the reintroduction of the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill 2017 which, as my colleague stated, was originally presented to the House by former Senator James Reilly. It was reintroduced yesterday by Deputy Canney, along with me and my colleagues in the Regional Group who co-signed it. I hope the Bill and the motion get cross-party support in order to fast-track the supports of which ASD sufferers and their families are in dire need.
The rapid prompting method, RPM, is a little-known but hugely successful method of dealing with non-verbal autism sufferers. It gives non-verbal autism sufferers a voice, using digital word spelling to deliver the message. I spoke to Eoin Ó Donnagáin, the principal of Kilrane National School in Rosslare. The school has a special needs autism unit that uses RPM but it is not funded by any Department. Rather, it is funded by the Kilrane National School special needs group, the time and generosity of which knows no bounds. In 2014, Senator Mullen asked that RPM be promoted and funded and targeted at children with autism. The answer he got was "No". However, the need for it has never been greater than it is now.
Covid has been a total disaster for those with autistic children, who have been far more badly affected than other families have. The reaction of the Government in instituting the longest lockdown in Europe, if not the world, utterly destroyed - that is the only word that can describe the effects of the lockdown - any semblance of normality, routine or progress for these families and will affect them for years to come. The rest of the country may be looking forward to society opening up, but these families are not. The regression of ASD sufferers will take years to repair. The Government owes it to these children and their families to provide, at the very least, a funded pilot programme on RPM. I agree with previous speakers that the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is hard-working, knows her job and is not afraid to get results from her Department. I commend her on that. I know how hard she works and the progress we have made on issues on which I have engaged with her. I ask her to address this issue. I have faith she will drive it on.
I have been in touch today with the mother of a ten-year-old boy in Wexford who, unfortunately, is now unable to access CAMHS. He has ASD and has been put on medication which is successful. However, he is ten years old, weighs 13 stone and has tried to take his own life. His mother is also suffering and feels like a failure but she has not failed her child. She has saved his life. It is the system that has failed them both and that must stop. I am wholeheartedly pleading with the Minister of State to help these families. The Government must not continue to ignore their needs. I ask her not just to support the motion, but also to support the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill and get the strategy going.