Young people with autism, and the issues they face, were to the fore again in Leinster House last week when Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú met autism campaigner, 12-year-old Cara Darmody at the Oireachtas.
The Sinn Féin TD met Cara, who wowed the country when she aced the Junior Cert Maths paper when she was just 12, and her father, Mark, at Leinster House as part of the student’s campaign for better services for people with autism.
Deputy Ó Murchú, who has made regular appearances at the Oireachtas Autism Committee, said: ‘We are talking about expanding summer provision with speech and language therapists, psychologists and occupational therapists using people who are training
‘We realise these resources are not where we need them. Therefore, a huge body of work needs to be done. There have been major failings across the board. The expansion of summer provision, while beneficial to some, obviously created a difficulty.
‘In fairness, decent work is being done by the autism committee in setting out straightforward recommendations. I do not believe there is anyone in this room or beyond who could keep a straight face while arguing against them’.
He spoke about the benefit his autistic son, Toirleach had from summer provision.
Deputy Ó Murchú said: ‘He got home-based provision for a number of years with two really good teachers. He was then able to get provision in a school setting in St. Joseph’s National School. That is even better.
‘We need to make sure it is delivered in the correct setting to those who most need it.
‘We may have to expand the pool of people who can deliver this programme, perhaps to those studying occupational therapy, those who will work in childcare and those studying speech and language therapy. I would like to think a considerable number of people will go through such training in the near future. That needs to happen.
The Dundalk TD also raised the issue of the rapid prompting method, RPM, beneficial with autistic people who are non-verbal and its use in schools.
Deputy Ó Murchú had tabled a question to Minister of State Josepha Madigan about the issue earlier in the day, which generated a good debate in the Dáil about the teaching method.
He said: ‘The Minister of State met with Fiacre Ryan and his mam, Carmel. I know that she will have been highly impressed, just as I was, with what RPM has done for Fiacre and his family.
‘There is an ask with regard to a pilot scheme and research so that we could look at RPM and any other assistive technologies necessary to facilitate autistic people, particularly those who are non-verbal, for whom many of us would have thought there was unfortunately no help available.
‘We have seen huge strides made in freeing people from what must have been a trap for many over many years. I welcome what the Minister of State said about it not being prohibited for any school to engage in this but we have to do some work on it.
‘I hope that these recommendations on the summer programme and the conclusions of the Minister of State’s review will be the same and that we can deliver the summer provision that a number of our citizens require’.