Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill 2017: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister to the House. It is great that he is here for the Second Stage of this Bill. I know he has a grá for the topic.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill 2017. As has been said, it seeks a national strategy for children and adults living with autism spectrum disorders. I warmly applaud my dear friend and colleague, Senator Reilly, for spearheading this forward-thinking initiative. The Bill has been designed to ensure those affected by ASD receive the necessary resources and support they deserve throughout their lives.
Everyone with ASD is unique. It is universally acknowledged that early diagnosis and early intervention with evidence-based practices make a great difference to a child with ASD. Current waiting lists for assessment are between nine and 18 months. However, in many counties throughout the country, families have had to wait years for a diagnosis. Even if a family is lucky enough to get a diagnosis, there is often no intervention or service to follow up the diagnosis. There is no autism team in two midland counties, for example. Waiting lists for clinical psychology, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy can be up to three years. A national autism strategy would help to highlight this shortfall in appropriate support.
In this vacuum, many families have no option but to search the Internet for help. As a result, the autism community in Ireland is flooded with unproven, unregulated and often dangerous interventions such as miracle mineral supplement, MMS, which promise cures. There is a proliferation of interventions for people on the autism spectrum. However, research evidence for most of these interventions is scant at best. Applied behaviour analysis and positive behaviour support are the proven methodologies for improving the well-being and quality of life of people with ASD. The Government must ensure that staff who work with people with autism, either in education or health or both, are trained and skilled in these methodologies. It has a responsibility to publish guidelines on reputable evidence-based interventions, fund research, evaluate autism interventions and disseminate and highlight practices that are found to be effective.
Many people with ASD can achieve paid employment or third level education or both. Some people with ASD thrive in the more specialised academic environment of university. To get there usually requires an individual support plan. People may need support to develop a system of communication and support to understand social communication. It helps if these are in place from a very early age. Some require inclusive education, possibly with the help of special needs assistants. Some require an autism-specific unit attached to a mainstream school with applied behaviour analysis as a primary methodology. With the right information and guidance for families and communities, people with ASD can develop meaningful and satisfying relationships which support them to connect with others while respecting any wish for time alone.
Ordinary environments such as waiting rooms, shops and cinemas can be terrifying for many people with ASD due to the sensory bombardment and overload therein. Behavioural methodologies have been very effective in identifying individual triggers, promoting emotional regulation and protecting an individual's mental health. Visual supports such as timetables, picture sequences and choice boards are a lifeline to many people with ASD. However, these methods need to be widely disseminated. The national strategy will, I trust, highlight interventions such as these and ensure they are disseminated as widely as possible, not just to professionals but to schools, families and communities in order that Irish citizens with a diagnosis of ASD can at last reach their true potential. I commend this Bill to the Seanad and I commend Senator Reilly on bringing it to the House.