Cllr Sarah O’Reilly (Aontú).

Call for autism supports

BILL Private assessments costing up to €1,500

The importance of support for the families of children with autism and the need for an expedient assessment system were raised at the July meeting of Cavan County Council.

Aontú councillor Sarah O'Reilly made a request that Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, be petitioned to ensure children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) applying for Domiciliary Care Allowance scheme be treated in the same manner as children with a visible disability or condition.

A second motion by the Aontú councillor called on Minister Stephen Donnelly to increase capacity in Cavan and Monaghan for assessment for Autism and to ask the reason waiting times are between two and three years in CHO1.

In regards to Domiciliary Care Allowance Cllr O'Reilly said: “It's been brought to my attention by parents who have young children with Autism that they are routinely being refused (DCA) and that the refusal rate towards them, is much higher than for children who have a visible disability.”

She said eligibility for the allowance is not based on disability diagnosis, but on the level of additional care required by the child because of the disability.

“Parents of children with autism feel they are being singled out in particular for additional information,” Cllr O'Reilly said.

“They are being asked to go over and above the accepted level of testing criteria when applying for Domiciliary Care Allowance.”

The elected representative spoke of the impact of filling out “family impact statements”, which are a day-to-day diary explaining the impact their child is having on the family and family life: “Many parents find this extremely hard – they feel they are baring their sole and the intimate details of their family life for strangers to judge. They feel by doing this they are being disloyal to their child 'dobbing them in to the state' – telling 'how bad' the child is and exposing what goes on in the privacy of their homes,” she told the other councillors.

Cllr O'Reilly said early intervention with children with autism is key to successful outcomes and pointed out that private sessions for speech and language can cost €120 per hour putting it out of the reach of many families.

Waiting list for assessment

With regard to the waiting list for autism assessment, the elected representative acknowledged the recent reduction in the waiting times, but said it remains high.

“A waiting time of two or three years is unacceptable to the families of children awaiting diagnoses, it is unfair to the children themselves, it does not sit easy with me and of course the families of children with autism, they know that early intervention is key to successful outcomes for their children,” Cllr O'Reilly said.

She spoke of the the financial burden of private assessment, for a child under three years the cost is €1,500 and for a child over three years, it is €950.

“In many cases, families borrow money to pay for private assessment, this in itself causes much hardship and unnecessary costs to families looking for diagnosis and subsequent access to essential services for children with autism, diagnosis opens the door to essential services such as Speech and Language (S&L), Occupational Therapy (OT) and physiological services,” Cllr O'Reilly told members.

There was unanimous support for both motions. Cllr Paddy McDonald said that there was a lost generation of young people who have not been assessed. The Sinn Fein man said there was need to put pressure on government to speed up the assessment process.

Cathaoirleach Clifford Kelly reiterated this point saying that it is of the utmost importance that provisions are made for early assessment and intervention to ensure positive outcomes.

Support from Cllrs Peter McVitty (FG), Patricia Walsh (FF), Winton Bennett (FG), Carmel Brady (FG), Aidan Fitzpatrick (FF), Brendan Fay (Ind) and Madeleine Argue (FG) all reiterated the points made by the other councillors.