‘Pylon corridor would destroy our autistic son’s quality of life’

Ten-year-old Connor O’Neill is utterly terrified of loud noise.

‘Pylon corridor would destroy our autistic son’s quality of life’

Mechanical noises terrify him to the point that he can’t go swimming with his class, as that would involve walking past a loud electricity generator.

Neither can he use public bathrooms as he is terrified somebody will turn on an electric hand dryer. When Connor, who has autism and can’t speak, hears loud noise, he starts sobbing, sticks his fingers in his ears and is visibly distressed. He will cling to his father when on a busy street.

As the eldest of four children, noise levels at the East Cork family home can get overwhelming at times and he has to seek sanctuary outdoors where nature, the rustle of leaves or a gentle breeze, soothe him.

But that sanctuary will be stolen if Eirgrid choose to run the €500m Gridlink pylon corridor through the village of Clonmult, near Dungourney outside Midleton. Playing outside will not be an option as he won’t be able to cope with the sound emanating from the powerlines.

Connor’s dad, Liam, a chemist, said the “constant cracking and humming from this corridor would torment his son”.

“It would terrify him. Connor can’t cope with a lot of people chattering,” he said.

Mother, Fiona, said living near 400kV pylons would “destroy Connor’s quality of life and that of the rest of the family”.

“We would have to sell our house as there is no way Connor could cope with that noise. But would we even be able to sell the house with the property devaluation that would occur because of the powerlines. Will we be trapped?

“We have designed our house around Connor and his needs. All the furniture is nailed to the floor as he can sometimes just decide to take things apart. We don’t ever want to put our son into residential care but would we have to?” she said.

When Liam and other representatives of the Clonmult Lisgoold No Pylon Group met with Eirgrid before Christmas, Liam told the company representatives about Connor and his sensory sensitivity. Unusual sensory responses such as hypersensitivity to noise are a common feature in children with autism, according to the Irish Autism Action.

“The response I got was that they could not guarantee that the Environmental Impact Statement would consider these individual cases. Neither could they supply information as to what medical expertise would be available to assess the impact of overhead lines on my son,” he said.

An Eirgrid spokesman said that the EIA for the project will examine all the possible health implications, including corona noise.

He added that during the most recent public consultation, concerns were expressed around the effects of overhead lines on people with autism and this issue will be examined as part of the review of the feedback.

"We would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Mr O'Neill and discuss his specific concerns," he said.

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