Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 April 2021

National Autism Empowerment Strategy: Motion [Private Members]


7:30 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour) | Oireachtas source

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. Tá súil agam go mbeidh misneach ag an Rialtas agus ag an Aire Stáit le gníomh atá romhainn uilig.

The issue of autism demands the attention of this House. That has been made abundantly clear by the contribution of every Member who has spoken. I am very grateful to all who have spoken in support of the Labour Party motion. I should mention that there are three members of the Government present, for which I am grateful. That underscores the regard the Government has for the importance of the issue of autism as one of the issues of our time that demands urgent and real attention. It demands from each of us a real effort to understand this issue. I include myself in this space when I say all of us are grappling to fully understand the issues, and then to provide supports people with autism and their families require.

Members have referenced their interactions with people. I have received many representations. I have a four-page typed letter from a friend of mine. I will read a couple of paragraphs of it into the record of the House. This person writes:

My daughter was diagnosed recently and has failing mental health, especially since she reached 16. She is learning to cope but is making progress, not necessarily linear but progress all the same. She lives at home with us and her routine and her life holds something for her. We have been able to cope. However when it comes to my other daughter it is safe to say we could in the last two and a half years write a book.

This is a family with two children with autism. The person went on to write:

Between February and November 2016 she had two significant periods of hospitalisation. However we were never given a full diagnosis of her condition. She was reluctant to leave her room, spending most of her time sitting under her school desk to the point of sleeping there most nights. Excessive amounts of time spent on schoolwork for the junior cert, perfectionism, singular black-and-white thinking, isolating herself from her family and finally self harming.

It truly is heartbreaking. There are so many stories like it. Access to residential units, the parent went on to say, is problematic for those who live in regions like the south east or north of a line from Dublin to Galway. That is just not right. Those incredible difficulties have been compounded by Covid-19.

I think there is resolve in the House from everybody I have listened to that we must do better. We must start not only with the Department of Education, from which we have heard, but also the Department of Health. Our motion states that the long-standing adversarial approach and mindset of resistance must change. That mindset of resistance must be replaced by a mindset of assistance.

The practice in the Department of Health of surreptitiously compiling dossiers of sensitive personal information from medical and other healthcare and educational sources on children with autism must be condemned. It is unacceptable, but it also gives us a window into the improper relationship between the nation's Department of Health and the nation's most vulnerable citizens. Our motion calls for a fully independent review, commissioned by a body other than the Department of Health, into this particular practice. I do not think anything else will be acceptable and I hope that will be agreed.

The motion is very comprehensive. At its heart, it calls for a national autism empowerment strategy. We in this House talked about a timeline for an autism committee in order to do that. Let us use this debate, and the support of all Members and the strong buy in from the Government and Ministers present, to finally address this issue with the resources and understanding it requires.


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