Laois autism charity struggling with number of HSE referrals

The charity currently helps 400 families in Laois and Offaly

Michelle Hogan

Reporter:

Michelle Hogan

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The HSE are referring patients seeking occupational therapy and speech therapy to a local charity, according to the Chairperson of LOFFA.

Mary Dunne is the Chairperson of Laois Offaly Family for Autism (LOFFA), and she said that the charity is run completely on fundraising and cannot support the number of families being referred to them by the HSE.

New figures show that a total of 1058 children aged between 5 and 18 years are waiting over one year for first-time occupational therapy assessment from the HSE in Laois/Offaly.

The charity currently provides services to 200 families in Laois and 200 in Offaly.

Mary told the Leinster Express that while the charity does subsidise services such as occupational therapy and speech therapy, it has had to cut back.

“All of our money comes from fundraising in the local community. We were subsidising two thirds of the cost of therapies for families but now we have cute that back to half,” she said.

Mary explained that on average a private session of therapy costs around €65 per hour which she says families cannot afford.

Occupational therapy is needed to help autistic children and people of all ages to cope with sensory issues and motor skills.

Mary explained that when children are assessed and move off the waiting list, they receive six sessions of occupational therapy from the HSE, regardless of their needs, and are then placed back on a waiting list if more therapy is needed.

“The system is broken, we have been saying this for the last two years, it doesn’t make any sense at all, I don’t have that time to waste shaking buckets for funding and I know the parents don’t either,” she said.

Mary Dunne says that she knows that there are families waiting over four years in many cases.

The 1058 5-18 year-olds waiting on a first assessment in Laois/Offaly is in comparison to zero children waiting over one year for a first-time assessment in the Longford/Westmeath branch, which is under the same management as Laois/Offaly.

Fifty-three 18 to 64 year-olds in Laois/Offaly are waiting over one year for their first consultation while one person in the same age bracket is waiting over one year in the Longford/Westmeath.

One hundred and sixty people aged 65 years or over are waiting over a year for the same service in Laois/Offaly compared to zero in Longford/Westmeath.

Laois Offaly Families for Autism is a local support group by parents for parents and families of children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).