Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. McHugh: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O’Malley to the House. I look forward to hearing his reply to this matter. He is fairly up to date on developments in this area and is knowledgeable on this matter.
I have met a number of parents in my county in the past six months or so and as a result I have begun to learn what it is like to have Asperger’s syndrome. A group of parents in County Donegal meet and are interested in developing support mechanisms for children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome. This is a condition with which I have become familiar and about which I have learned a great deal in the past six months. One aspect I have learned is that people with Asperger’s syndrome are talented, highly skilled and intelligent.
One outlet for people with Asperger’s syndrome to show their talents and their worth is a HSE sponsored project in Letterkenny, Create A Link, which uses art therapy. The Minister of State is probably familiar with this project in his constituency. It has been a phenomenal success. It has shown that people with Asperger’s syndrome can progress in their career paths and personal development.
Even though the HSE is involved in this project, it is my firm belief that people with Asperger’s Syndrome should not be treated in a medical or health context, rather the focus should be on their educational needs and how they can develop a progressive career paths and work towards living independently in their own environments.
From the contact I have had with many of the parents, they find there is limited support for young adults with Asperger’s syndrome once they reach the age of 18 years. We should focus on that area, perhaps in terms of education support and in conjunction with working with the HSE. The parents highlighted the need for provision for independent living within a supported housing environment. We should also focus on that area. We should make provision to ensure that people with Asperger’s syndrome can retain their independence and autonomy. Some people with Asperger’s syndrome would require a personal assistant support system and others would like a provision whereby they would work together in a group fashion within a supported housing environment. This is an area that needs to be addressed.
I look forward to hearing the Minister of State’s reply. Provision for people with any condition, be it autism, Asperger’s syndrome or dyslexia, can be addressed if the proper resources and facilities are put in place. People are different and all have different levels of intelligence and ability. A person with Asperger’s syndrome is not necessarily any less or more intelligent than anybody else. They have their specific needs and it is important we invest the necessary resources to help them develop.
The Create A Link project in Letterkeny explores art therapy and enables those participating in it to express themselves in a communal setting with their peers. We also need to examine the provision of supported housing to enable these people to retain their independence and pursue their career paths and personal development. We are all different and equal, and it is important we put the proper facilities and mechanisms in place to help people with Asperger’s syndrome to pursue their personal development.
What is required is probably the establishment of a pilot scheme involving the parents and working closely with the HSE. Good work is being done sporadically in pockets in different places. We need to examine best practice in regard to how we can move this model forward.
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley): I thank Senator McHugh for raising this matter as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the House the position regarding the additional funding provided for services for children and adults with disabilities in 2006.
Under the multi-annual investment programme 2006-09, which is part of the national disability strategy, additional funding amounting to €51.5 million is being provided by the Government in 2006 to meet costs associated with the provision of certain specific high profile disability services. In regard to services for persons with intellectual disability and those with autism, this includes 255 new residential places; 85 new respite places; 535 new day places; and the continuation of the implementation of the transfer of persons with intellectual disability-autism from psychiatric hospitals and other inappropriate placements.
In addition to the services mentioned above, further additional funding of €22.5 million is also being provided in 2006 to enhance the multi-disciplinary support services for children and adults with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities and those with autism and to address core underfunding and core staffing issues in services for people with disabilities provided by the voluntary sector. This additional funding is in line with the Government’s commitment to enhance multi-disciplinary support services for people with disabilities and increase the capacity of the health services to deliver on the various legislative provisions contained in the national disability strategy.
Capital funding amounting to €45 million has also been provided in 2006 to support additional places in services for persons with a physical, sensory or intellectual disability or autism. The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under this Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver or arrange to be delivered on its behalf health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of services to young people who suffer from Asperger’s syndrome.
I am advised that the Health Service Executive provides a continuum of service provision for children with Asperger’s syndrome, including family support services and pre-school assistant services, specialised multi-disciplinary teams where required, residential services, respite and other services. This continuum of services is based on assessed need and prioritised in a manner which is consistent with available resources. The Health Service Executive states that the provisions of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, when implemented, will facilitate the provision of health-related supports in the school setting where these are deemed to be necessary for young people to achieve their educational outcome.
According to the Health Service Executive, there is also a continuum of service provision for persons aged over 18 years with Asperger’s syndrome, including specialised multi-disciplinary teams, day services, residential services, respite and other services based on assessed need and prioritised consistent with available resources. The Senator may be aware that there is a range of other supports required in the areas of housing, welfare and employment for people with Asperger’s syndrome which do not come within the remit of the health system.
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