19 Aug 2022

New Oireachtas committee chaired by Longford Senator to examine services and supports for autistic people

New Oireachtas committee chaired by Longford Senator to examine services and supports for autistic people

Senator Micheál Carrigy, Chair, Oireachtas Joint Committee on Autism

A new whole-of- Government approach on how to provide better supports and services for children and adults with autism is required, according to Fine Gael Senator Micheál Carrigy.

Senator Carrigy will chair the first meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Autism tomorrow, Tuesday, June 28. The committee will hear from multiple stakeholders on services and supports provided by the State for autistic people and how they can be improved.

The Joint Committee on Autism has 13 Members, eight from the Dáil and five from the Seanad, including Longford Westmeath Fianna Fáil TD Joe Flaherty. 

Other members are Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD, Joan Collins TD, Marian Harkin TD, Joe McHugh TD, Pádraig O’Sullivan TD, Pauline Tully TD and Marc Ó Cathasaigh TD; along with Senators Catherine Ardagh, Róisín Garvey, Eileen Flynn and Mark Wall. 

Senator Carrigy said, “Raising awareness and campaigning for better services for children and adults with autism is an area I have been passionate about since I had the honour of becoming a Senator more than two years ago and previously as a councillor in Longford.

“The Committee will hear from people with autism, their families, and representative bodies, as well as Departments, Government agencies, and Ministers. We intend to consider matters such as long waiting times for assessment of needs and access to assessments for children and young adults, as well as ensuring there is a timely intervention of services and support for children in schools to ensure full inclusion in education.

“The lack of school places for all children with special educational needs is something I have raised previously, as in my own constituency in the Athlone school area, there are three post primary schools with almost 1,000 pupils that currently do not have a special class.

“I know work is underway by my colleague, Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan, and the Department of Education to ensure the necessary resources and supports for SEN placements are in place.

“Minister Madigan has made it clear that she believes every single school should provide Special Education Provision and that is where we need to get to as a society. Minister Madigan has already initiated the Section 37a process which will compel schools to open special classes. The Minister is currently examining how best to streamline that process and if emergency legislation will help us to do that.

“The Minister is also looking at to commence Section 67 of the Education Act. This provides a power to the NCSE to designate a school place for an individual child in a special class or special school.

“No family should face the distressing situation where they do not have a school place for their child and this early intervention must be provided so they can reach their full potential and continue on to secondary school with the same necessary support.

“I would like to see the School Inclusion Model rolled out on a nationwide basis so that children can receive speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and behavioural supports in a school setting.

“At third level, funding was recently granted to colleges by Minister for Further and Higher education Simon Harris to students with autism and intellectual disability which is extremely helpful.

“We as legislators must ensure that all Government departments and agencies shape their policies and strategies with the aim of creating a more autism-inclusive and neurodiverse-friendly society.

“This extends to supporting people of all ages with autism and disabilities, and we must also identify the barriers for people in gaining meaningful employment. A recent survey by AsIAm stated that 85% of persons with autism are unemployed or underemployed, and the group recommended that employers develop more inclusive recruitment processes and embed autism friendly practices in their organisations.

“There is a body of work to do on generating more awareness of hidden disabilities like autism and on fostering a culture of acceptance, understanding and inclusion in our society.

“The Committee will make recommendations when it reports back to the Oireachtas, which will feed into the new Autism Innovation Strategy.

“The strategy, in line with a commitment in the Programme for Government, is  currently being developed by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth,” Senator Carrigy said.

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