Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Autism Empowerment Strategy: Motion [Private Members]
I too compliment Páirtí an Lucht Oibre on tabling the motion. I wish the Minister of State well, but anybody who tries to help on the issue of autism knows there are some shocking figures in this area, as I learned when studying the issue. The State has recently spent more than €8,000 on consultants and advisers from Deloitte and other companies but there are 5,018 people waiting for an assessment. The trauma, stress, anxiety, fear and desperation that parents go through with autistic children - some families have more than one - is heart-rending. As elected representatives, we feel powerless to help. It beggars belief that a town the size of Clonmel had no autism unit until recently.
I salute the boards of management, teachers and unions who have come forward. We had two units set up by Mr. Ryan for preschool. We had none for national or secondary school but we now have a wonderful unit in the high school in Clonmel operated exceptionally by Paddy O'Gorman and Brid Wilkinson, under the excellent tuition of their principal in the school. We have one in my school in Caisleán Nua, a new one in Burncourt national school and two being constructed at Clerihan national school. They are mushrooming out. The needs are there. I salute all the people with special needs and the people who go into that vocation to give love and care to those lovely, beautiful children.
I salute Nick Ryan-Purcell, a hero from Nenagh and a young man with huge talents. He has made a short film and came to this House to show it in the AV room. He has gone all over Europe showing his film and talking openly. He is now doing wonderful paintings and putting up wonderful scenes on Facebook and social media. I salute him, his mother and all mothers and parents because it is a challenge.
My late brother was a paediatrician and was very interested in issues of autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia and all those special needs. He had a particular love for it and is a big loss not only to his family but to the patients who loved him. We could do so much more. We have to cut out the red tape and the taking of notes and notes and notes. We saw an exposé recently where the notes were taken to fight court cases. There is a huge amount of money being used to fight these cases. Ní neart go cur le chéile. Put all our energies together with passion and vision to try and build these units and have more of them.
We have to examine why there are so many symptoms of autism in young children. We have to question that. Something has changed. When I was in school, maybe there were a number there but it was not apparent, certainly not to me. Maybe I was wrong. I will not say "epidemic" as that is the wrong word, but it is hugely worrying. People, including teachers, have come to me and said we have to investigate the causes. It is here, thankfully we can diagnose it now and I salute the people who diagnose it but the waiting lists are traumatic. The last 14 months have been traumatic. I have had parents ringing me whose children were incarcerated and they could not have their daily trips to the special school on the bus or to the playground or whatever. Untold regression has taken place in autistic people and people with special needs. It is time we opened the gates to let them out and let them live and supported them in the community. I wish everybody well who tries to make an effort in the right way. Forget the consultants, take out the barristers and the legal challenges, deal with it sensitively and compassionately and we will be a better country for it.