Press Release

Statement from Dr. James Reilly, T.D., Minister for Health on World Autism Awareness Day

I would like to share some of my thoughts on autism both as a parent of a child with autism and as the Minister for Health, on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that not only affects approximately 1 in every 100 citizens in Europe but also impacts on their families and society at large.  The Government is committed to providing specialist disability supports to enable each individual with  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to achieve his or her full potential and maximise independence, including living as independently as possible.

Autism Bill 2012

The Autism (Private Members) Bill 2012 was introduced at Second Stage in the Dail in March 2013 by Deputy Michael McCarthy.  The Bill proposes the preparation of an autism strategy and a national framework for addressing the specific needs of adults with autism.  Although the needs of people with autism have received some recognition in recent years it is my view that the Bill is contributing to a more enlightened and educated public debate.

It is a very positive development that the broad thrust of the Bill was accepted by all parliamentary parties.  The Cabinet Committee on Social Policy is currently examining issues around autism and issues arising in the context of the Bill, across Government Departments in association with the National Disability Authority (NDA).  This ongoing work by the NDA, which has included consultation with families, will be of significant assistance in informing how best to address the needs of people with ASD so that we can be sure that they are appropriately reflected and included in our policies and actions.

I stated at the Second Stage Debate on the Bill that it would be likely to require significant amendment to ensure that the proposals are workable in practice.  In particular we need to ensure that the proposals dovetail appropriately with the many actions of benefit to people with ASD which are being undertaken under the National Disability Strategy.  In practice this has included, for example, a specific workshop on autism as part of the preparatory work for a Comprehensive Employment Strategy, to ensure that autism specific needs are reflected.

I have acknowledged that by opening up the debate we could re-invigorate thinking on the needs of people with ASD by giving their specific needs an airing and spotlight.  Work needs to continue to ensure that any further action undertaken will add value for people with ASD and I am confident that the ongoing work in the Cabinet Committee on Social Policy and the research and consultation being undertaken by the NDA will be of great assistance.

National Disability Strategy

In the context of both World Autism Awareness Day and the Autism Bill it is important to note that the Government is already committed under the National Disability Strategy (NDS) to ensuring that people with autism are empowered by policy and programmes to participate meaningfully as citizens in Irish society.  The NDS is driven by this basic but fundamentally important objective and is the most effective combination of legislation, policies, institutional arrangements and services to support and reinforce equal participation for all people with disabilities.

Representatives of people with ASD participate in the work of the National Disability Strategy Implementation Group, to ensure that the voices of people with autism and their families are heard by all of the Government Departments and agencies involved in implementing the strategy.

The Minister of State for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People, Kathleen Lynch TD, published a National Disability Strategy implementation Plan in July 2013. The publication of the Plan, a commitment in the Programme for Government, is a significant step forward in ensuring progress is achieved in implementing the NDS over the next three years.

Health Services

I am also pleased to record that as part of the fundamental changes to the way in which health services are provided  a large scale reform of disability services, is being embarked on to implement the Value for Money and Policy Review. This will transform our model of service to a community based model of person-centred care.  2014 will see a number of key steps in implementing this change including an additional investment of €14m and 130 additional staff to provide placements for young people leaving special schools, emergency residential placements and the roll out a new model of service under the Progressing Disabilities Programme for all children with disabilities.

These measures will have a significant impact on those with ASD across the full range of health services.