News & Media

Labour Party Autism Empowerment Motion draws powerful testimonies from community

29 April 2021

Statement by Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
Spokesperson on Education, Enterprise and Trade

Speaking in advance of the Labour Party motion calling for a National Autism Empowerment Strategy, Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD highlighted that he and his party colleagues have been inundated with stories from families affected by the Government’s inaction on an autism plan. Deputy Ó Ríordáin and his colleagues will be sharing many of these stories during the debate this evening.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin 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.

“In testimony received, one parent described the experience of “closed doors everywhere we turn and constant battles for support and services”. The parent says they are living “in a constant state of uncertainty and exclusion. There are zero services provided regardless of the complexity of the needs. We just go from list to list.” Unfortunately, as bad as the present situation is, this parent is fearful for the future and “how we will cope with caring for our child as we get older…is all consuming and based on the lack of services now it is very hard to have any hope for the future.”

“The Labour motion addresses a number of key issues for autistic people, adults and children. It raises in particular the need to tackle the lengthy delays experienced by many parents seeking assessments for their children. We know that early diagnosis and tailored supports is the key for children with autism to help them develop strategies to make life easier. With early assessment, autistic children can grow up to have well developed skills in communication and social interaction which are fundamental to having a good quality of life. Providing people with autism with the right foundations mean they can live, work and proposer in society.

 “In testimony received, one person diagnosed with ASD 10 years ago described how “throughout my life, I have had to fight for the basic rights that my neurotypical contemporaries have been provided with. I have found education hard to access, as many of my teachers did not understand how to treat me and I often felt infantalised by the resource team in my secondary school. I was often told that when I struggled that I was not trying hard enough. It is only since beginning college three years ago that I have begun to thrive, rather than just survive, as I am provided with the resources I need to allow me to access education.”

“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.

“In the development of a national strategy, direct involvement from autistic people and their families through working groups and direct consultation with the community is essential. We must also learn from best practice abroad, and our motion highlights the impactful 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.

“The Labour Party has also called for a €100 million Catch Up for Children Scheme to be introduced by Government to address the lack of access for children to supports and extracurricular activities as a result of school closures. A dedicated fund is needed to help children to make up for lost class time - and particular attention is needed for children with autism and with additional needs. Taking an evidenced based approach, through the introduction of such a scheme, Government can address some of the damage that has been caused by pandemic-related closures of schools and services for children.

“There is 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."