Tuesday, 22 February 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
216. Mr. J. Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children the provisions, if any, made for a pre-school child with autism from the date of diagnosis to its entry into the educational system including early information for parents on pre-school play group activity, nursing, medical and paramedic supports; if a key worker service co-ordinator is assigned to the family following diagnosis; and the services, if any, provided for the child and family in the early years. [5236/00]
217. Mr. J. Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children the services, if any, provided for young adults with autism; the funding, if any, provided to voluntary organisations for training and employment opportunities for such people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5237/00]
218. Mr. J. Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children the services, if any, provided for young adults with autism; the funding, if any, provided to the National Rehabilitation Board for training and employment opportunities for such people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5238/00]
219. Mr. J. Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children the services, if any, provided for young adults with autism; the funding, if any, provided to health boards for training and employment opportunities for such people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5239/00]
220. Mr. J. Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children the services, if any, provided for school going children with autism in the mainstream school special class option and in the special school option; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5240/00]
As the Deputy is aware, the provision of health related support services for children and young adults with autism is the responsibility of the health boards in the first instance. Significant additional funding has been allocated in recent years for the development of both autism specific services and those for persons with an intellectual disability who may also have autism.
Additional funding amounting to approximately £5 million has been allocated since 1998 to enhance the early intervention, pre-school and outreach services for children of school going age with autism. These services are provided by  multi-disciplinary support teams and include the provision of speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, psychological and social work support services. The multidisciplinary teams work closely with the parents and families of children with autism to address their needs. While practices in relation to liaison arrangements may vary from board to board, the identification of a key worker for individual children is one of the most commonly used liaison methods.
The provision of educational services for children with special needs, including those with autism, is the responsibility of the Department of Education and Science. In recent years there has been a significant expansion of these services and my Department, in conjunction with the health boards, has worked closely with the Department of Education and Science to provide health related support services to school going children with autism. Both Departments will continue to work together to address the needs of these children.
The National Rehabilitation Board – NRB – is not directly involved in the provision of training services. It has, however, responsibility for the administration of the EU Human Resources Development Operational Programme – HRDOP – 1994-99 within which the bulk of training for persons with disabilities has occurred in recent years.
In March 1999 approximately £70,000 was made available to support a two year pilot training programme, at foundation level, for young adults with Asperger's syndrome. The course is currently under way and the experience gained will assist in determining decisions on future courses.
In addition there are three projects currently under way and funded under the horizon employment initiative for young adults with autism entitled ASPIRE, TASK and STARR. Funding totalling just under £645,000 has been made available to support these initiatives. Persons with autism would also have participated in other training programmes for persons with intellectual disabilities in particular within the HRDOP over the period in question.
Persons with autism have also benefited from the overall development of services to persons with an intellectual disability, including enhanced access to residential, day and respite services. In the period 1997 to 1999 approximately 1,000 new day places have been created. This broad range of new services would include additional training, sheltered and other employment support services. However, separate information on the specific proportion of the funding spent on new day services for persons with autism is not routinely collected by my Department.
Information on autism, including research and publications, is available from a wide variety of sources, including the Irish Society for Autism, health boards, voluntary agencies providing services to persons with an intellectual disability and  autism and parent support groups. Some health boards have produced directories of the services available in their region to persons with disabilities, including those with autism, which provide both practical information on services and contact persons-numbers relevant to the various disabilities. I would suggest that these publications, which are available from the directors/co-ordinators of disability services in the relevant health boards, would provide an initial starting point for families seeking information on services.
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