Parents vow to fight for special needs care

PARENTS of children with special needs are traditionally a silent force but throughout Cork they are vowing to make themselves heard through the ballot box.

The number of children with special needs is rising, but the support services cannot cope with the demand.

In many cases parents give up work because it is impossible to juggle professional lives and commuting times with meeting the needs of their children.

Since the last general election, the number of children diagnosed with the likes of autism, Aspergers and dyspraxia has risen dramatically.

Chief executive of the Cork-based Irish Progressive Association for Autism Kieran Kennedy said there is no adequate service but in rural parts parents are being met with a brick wall.

“In rural areas like north Cork you are waiting far longer for any type of service, it is difficult to get home tutors because of the lack of people and you cannot get access to therapy.

“If you go to west Cork there are no specific services for autism at all. If you are in the south of the city you have better access to services and because it is a more affluent area, people are better able to cover certain costs themselves.

“In other areas people cannot afford that, this week alone we have had to pay for three assessments privately for people who could not get them,” he said.

He said the Government has failed to grasp what needs to be done and is hiring administrators to manage funding rather than helping frontline services.

In Cork, the number of children with difficulties has risen during the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition but investment has not matched up.

“About 18 months ago in Cork you could have been able to get on the list and be assessed by the age of three, but now the increase in the numbers of children with autism means they are not getting assessed until at least the age of four. And there is still no ABA (applied behavioural analysis) teaching available in the area,” he said.

Politicians across the county say it is an issue prompting immense anger at the doorstep.

Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer said there is an alarming amount of families in this situation.

“From canvassing over the past six months I meet, on average, two families affected by autism each night. While each individual case is different, there is commonality of experience, of difficulties accessing appropriate services and doubt regarding the future,” he said.

One of his constituents, a mother of a seven-year-old child with dyspraxia, said she has been forced to pay out close to €3,000 to cover private assessments and therapy.

Her husband is trained as a psychologist but stays at home to look after their child. It is a costly exercise.

“It is nearly three years since he was first put on a waiting list and we are still waiting. It is €90 every week for occupational therapy, the assessment is €300 and we have had to buy special toys worth more than €1,000 to help his development. We are lucky because we had saved up over the years but I have friends who are in the same boat and cannot save up for assessment,” she said.

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