Today on World Autism Awareness Day and through AsIAm’s ‘Say Yes to Autism Acceptance’ campaign during the month of April, there is an important opportunity to highlight the many barriers that people with autism face on a regular basis and which need to be changed.
We have an opportunity to break down barriers and create a greater understanding of autism, as well as the challenges people with autism and their families face. Every experience of autism is very unique, bringing different individual skills, attributes and characteristics. I want to thank everyone who is sharing their story today and who is raising awareness.
The government needs to do much more to ensure that people with autism can live their lives fully and equally. Two years ago, the Dáil backed Sinn Féin’s proposals for an Autism Strategy and a specific Autism Committee in the Oireachtas. However, the Government has still not acted on this.
Sinn Féin will continue to press the Government on this and ensure that people with autism get the services and supports they should be entitled to. There can be no more delays.
Autistic adults face huge gaps in the provision of crucial services, particularly in finding work, securing social welfare or living independently.
Children face lengthy waiting times for assessment and struggle to locate appropriate school places. We see this every day with the Assessment of Need process, which is failing people with autism and their families.
While there is a legal requirement to carry out an Assessment of Need within six months, the average waiting time, as of July 2020, was 19 months. 5,000 children were waiting longer than the law permits for an assessment.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg as, while the law stipulates that an assessment should be carried out within this timeframe, we know this is often not the case. There is no statutory timeframe of access to the supports, services or therapies stipulated as needed within the assessment.
Recently, RTÉ Investigates lifted the lid on the scandal of how the Department of Health has been collecting secret dossiers on the families of children with autism who had taken legal cases against the government. This was appalling and never should have happened. There needs to be an independent non-statutory investigation into what happened, similar in scope and duration to the Scally Inquiry.
The issues affecting people with autism are longstanding and they have been battling many years for their rights and entitlements. The Government needs to step up and act.