Report criticises crisis levels of autism services

Families of children with autism in the Midlands have claimed that services have deteriorated to crisis levels, with more people seeking help in securing basic assessments.

The Laois Offaly Families For Autism (LOFFA) group will publish a report today which it claims shows the two counties to be ‘blackspots’ in a country that is generally under-resourced when it comes to providing autism services.

According to the report, which uses HSE figures, Laois/Offaly is severely understaffed versus local, national, and peer locations and the number of therapists would need to double to reach national standard. There are also significantly more children waiting for services in Laois/Offaly than anywhere else in Dublin Mid Leinster.

The group added: “Parents report a genuine fear of complaining for fear there may be retaliatory action against them such as losing any small amount of service they may be receiving.”

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According to the report, none of the assessment of needs carried out in Laois/Offaly in 2014 were compliant with the timeframes set out in the Disability Act 2005, while the therapist/child ratio in Laois/Offaly ranked 25 out of 27 local health offices nationally.

The report also mentions an “unacceptable waiting time for the provision of speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and psychology” as well as “discrepancies between privately sought assessments and HSE assessments”.

It argues that since LOFFA was founded the general level of service provision has failed to meet demand and that “those families are still being forced to fight current health service providers [HSE] for exactly the same things”.

The report also catalogues how services have been cut back in recent years, highlighting how families in the area have lost a residential respite service and a dedicated autism team over the past decade, while waiting times for speech and language therapy, psychological services and occupational therapy have lengthened from months to years.

Mary Dunne of LOFFA said the type of contacts from families in Laois and Offaly had changed in recent months, illustrating the pressure many people now feel to secure adequate services for their children.

“The phone calls from parents have changed significantly in the last couple of months,” she said, adding that in previous years the calls were for more services, but now families “cannot get their [children] in the door to get them assessed”.

LOFFA also said the Laois/Offaly area compared unfavourably to other HSE areas in terms of services, including neighbouring area Longford/Westmeath, which has 25% less of a population but 25% more therapists.

Compared to the South Lee area in Cork, which has an almost identical population size, Laois/Offaly has half the number of therapists.

The report will be launched today in Tullamore following a protest by parents outside the Offices of Disability Services.

Ms Dunne said there was a “fundamental problem” with how resources were managed in the area.

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