Parents emotionally outlined the lack of services for children with autism in Laois/Offaly and branded the neglect of their children as ‘child abuse’ at a protest organised by Laois Offaly Families For Autism (LOFFA) last week.
Last Thursday, May 199 LOFFA held a protest outside the HSE disability services offices on Arden Road Tullamore.
The group protested last year and were promised 20 further therapy posts being approved for Laois/Offaly.
However, to date, LOFFA say these posts have not been all filled and currently Laois psychology services for school age children are suspended.
At a press conference held after the protest, many emotional parents described in painful detail the lack of support they receive from the HSE and how a shortage of therapy posts and a non-existent psychology service in Laois has seriously impacted on their children’s development.
A year ago LOFFA launched a report, ‘The Current State of Autism Services in Laois/Offaly’, with many saying last week that they never expected to be a year on from that report and services even worse. “A year later the situation has deteriorated to an unacceptable level,” LOFFA acting chairperson Martin Malone said.
A total of 12 of 28 therapy posts have been filled, but the waiting list for occupational therapy has got longer and now stands at 47 months for 950 school children. “Not one of the 12 posts are psychologists and currently Laois psychology services for school children age are ‘suspended’”, Mr Malone said. He added that six psychology posts remain vacant.
The national compliance rate is 35% for the statutory Assessment of Need (AON) process, Laois/Offaly is much lower than this and has a compliance rate of just 9%, or less than 1 in 10.
“Emergency measures,” are now required, Mr Malone said, “to draft in multidisciplinary teams in each county drawn from private and public sector to clear the backlog of waiting lists and outstanding AONs so that Laois/Offaly may be a more attractive proposal for therapists to take up the approved therapist posts”.
“Children requiring immediate psychology intervention should be permitted to source private psychology services funded by the HSE,” he said. There should also be complete compliance with the Disability Act, he said.
Accurate and early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is required by psychologists along with the reintroduction of school-based therapies in special schools and classes as well as services for children in mainstream settings, he added.
Parents face a constant battle for support. One father said he has three children diagnosed with ASD. “Instead of getting three times the help, I get three times the fight,” he said of his attempts to try and access support services. He said it was a disgrace that they have to fundraise to provide services for their children.
“Parents are suffering and there’s no help either. Our little children can’t get the support they need and they didn’t choose this life,” he said.
Parent after parent then outlined how they have been left waiting for assessment and therapies and support to help their children reach their potential. Several described the neglect endured by their children due to the lack of HSE services as “child abuse”.