KATHLEEN FUNCHION: Dawn of a new era for people with autism and their families
IT’S been a very good week for those of us who have campaigned for far greater supports for those living with autism.
But, far more importantly, the passing of Sinn Fein’s Autism Empowerment motion this week on World Autism Awareness Day marks a significant milestone that will lay the groundwork for a new era of greater understanding of the need for a more inclusive approach when it comes to autism supports.
The passing of the motion has moved us a significant step closer towards getting the national Autism strategy we urgently need. It is also indicative of the recognition by all parties and independent TDs that the current system in place, which is meant to address the needs of autistic people, is simply not working.
There is now cross-party agreement that this must be fixed, and that any new strategy must have the input of autistic people, parents, stakeholders, teachers and principals at the heart of it. Their knowledge, first-hand experience and struggles must be central to the work of the committee and inform its recommendations.
The next critical step is the establishment of the All- Party Committee on Autism. Our hope is that this will happen in the immediate future. We will then take on the task over a period of six months to develop a national Autism Empowerment Strategy which will address the many issues highlighted by TDs who participated in the debate last Tuesday evening in the Oireachtas.
The motion called for the All Party Committee to find solutions to the many roadblocks and obstacles autistic people and their families face on a daily basis. The committee needs to address several crucial issues: the lack of diagnoses for children, the lack of medical services and supports for diagnosed autistic children, the shortage of ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition) classes and school places and the complete lack of services and supports for autistic people once they turn 18.
This motion would not have passed without the valiant work and lobbying efforts of parents and campaigners. They are the people who fight tirelessly on behalf of their children and family members.
I know all TDs contributing in the Dáil chamber on Tuesday night understood the significance of so many parents and campaigners coming to watch the debate live in person. The round of applause by Dáil members at the end of the debate was a tacit acknowledgement and appreciation of that.
I am delighted our motion received the support it did and was passed. But now the real important work begins: getting the Autism Committee up and running and completing the Autism Empowerment Strategy for the betterment of everyone living with autism, and their families, in this country.
Kathleen Funchion is Sinn Féin TD for Carlow-Kilkenny