Labour Party call for National Autism Empowerment Strategy

27 April 2021

The Labour Party will table a motion in the Dáil this Thursday calling for a National Autism Empowerment Strategy. In recognition that the special interests and strengths of autistic people are a vital part of our communities and society, and that we lose out when their unique insight, experience and contribution is lost, the Labour motion would aims to achieve inclusion, equality and accountability for the autism community.

Launching the motion, Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD said:

“There is huge frustration within the autism community who have been effectively ignored by successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments. Some of the personal experiences are harrowing. Parents spend so much time fighting with the State for their child that it leaves them exhausted and broken.

“The delays, cancellations and curtailments in healthcare, education and other public services caused by Covid-19 have made what was already a poor situation considerably worse for autistic people and their families. They are in a uniquely isolated and vulnerable position and studies are already showing the mark left on autistic people from lockdowns. Research from DCU published in August 2020 found that 74% of parents with an autistic child reported that they would be faced with unique challenges as restrictions began to ease. 61% reported a decline in abilities and skills of their children, with 34% noting a deterioration in their child’s ability to self-regulate emotions.

“This isolation has been reinforced by the revelations of RTÉ Investigates that the Department of Health has secretly compiled dossiers of sensitive personal information, from medical and other sources on children whose parents were fighting for supports. the publication of an internal review into this matter last week has done nothing to restore confidence as it lacks the independence and transparency so urgently required. The fact that this review was published without any outreach to the autism community adds further insult to injury.

“To counter the huge amount of negativity that exists, our motion seeks to bring a sense of positivity and hope to people with autism and their families. We are calling for a National Autism Empowerment Strategy, based on the Maltese model. We want a rights-based approach that ensures their inclusion and acceptance. We want to change the entire culture in the country about our approach to autism.

“The Labour motion calls for direct involvement in the development of a national strategy from autistic people and their families through working groups and direct consultation with the community. It suggests learning from best practice abroad, the Maltese Persons with the Autism Spectrum (Empowerment) Act 2016. If followed, it would establishment an Irish Autism Advisory Council, similar to the Maltese Autism Advisory Council, to advise and guide Government on autism strategy and which holds Government to account.

“There is an urgent need to address waiting lists, occupational therapy, speech and language and other areas of concerns. The Labour motion calls for the immediate recruitment of additional therapists to ensure early intervention which would lead to a best practice model of service delivery.

“There is also a real need for a sustained autism inclusiveness campaign to equip everyone with the best information and end any biases, conscious or otherwise. We have much to learn as a society about the autism community to ensure that we are building inclusive communities. One tangible way to bridge this information gap is the inclusion of a question on autism in the next national census to determine the number of autistic people in the State.

“A clear system of accountability and scrutiny relating to autism service provision is urgently required in this country. Labour’s motion seeks to change how the health care, educational, employment and social needs of people with autism are to be addressed throughout their lives and across the public service in terms of access to services, justice, housing, employment and social inclusion, with parity of access as the underpinning goal. Autistic people and their families must be empowered to live full and independent lives rooted in the fundamental dignity of every human being.”

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