Henry Fitzsimons, founder of Service Dogs Europe, said he was “deeply saddened” when he read about the difficulties parents were experiencing accessing the services provided by the HSE because of health service cutbacks.
Henry, a qualified dog trainer for more than 30 years, developed Service Dogs Europe two years ago to provide assistance dogs to help people with physical impairments.
Mr Fitzsimon’s speech and language school — Inspire, based in Dundalk, Co Louth and part-funded by Service Dogs Europe — opened this month. Six therapy sessions, including an assessment, costs €199 and the school can provide one-to-one classes for up to 40 children and adults.
In March, the Irish Examiner revealed that more than 15,000 children with serious speech and language difficulties must wait up to two years for an initial assessment.
At the start of the year, 8,954 children were waiting four months for an initial assessment, 3,394 were waiting four to six months, 1,789 for eight to 12 months, and 1,639 for between one and two years.
Mr Fitzsimons, the father of two autistic sons, James, 19, and Jack, 12, also read a report by Inclusion Ireland highlighting the lack of speech and language therapy services.
He was moved by a story about a father who felt ashamed that he could not afford to pay for the speech and language lessons his son needed when he was younger. The father often wondered just how much further on his son would have been had be been able to afford the lessons.
“As a father myself of two boys on the spectrum, I could fully understand where he was coming from,” he said.
Mr Fitzsimons hoped that people would come together and raise funds to secure the school’s future.
Claire Walsh, a therapist at the non-profit Inspire, said the initial assessment would take around 40 minutes. She said that some services were charging €100 for the assessment and €40 for each hour with the child or adult after that.
“While we are charging less, it is not that we are offering a lesser-quality service because Service Dogs Europe is part-funding it,” she said.
Ms Walsh explained that additional costs not covered by the €199 payment would be covered by Dogs Europe.
“If parents wanted further sessions for their children, the matter would be discussed and the costs discussed,” she said.
Mr Fitzsimons who lives in Louth, Co Louth, said: “Even is people cannot afford the €199, we will show them how to fund-raise money and they will get it in no time at all.”