MORE than 840 Cork children are waiting longer than three months for a clinical assessment for special needs, despite the fact this contravenes the HSE’s own guidelines.
If a parent thinks their child may have a disability, they can apply for an Assessment of Need (AON) through the HSE.
This assessment identifies the child’s health needs and what services they require.
From January 2019 to the present, there were 1,236 applications for an Assessment of Need in Cork.
“All these applications commence the AON process and completed the desktop phase [an administrative exercise] known as stage one within the statutory timeframe of 12 weeks,” a spokesperson for the HSE said.
However, 844 children are waiting for longer than 12 weeks/three months for a clinical assessment, which is stage two of the process.
The majority of these are waiting for an autism assessment.
However, the HSE says improvements have been made, especially at stage one of the process.
In a statement, Cork Kerry Community Healthcare said: “A number of initiatives have been put in place around recruitment of additional administrative staff and two additional assessment officers to screen applications.”
“There are 844 children waiting at stage two [clinical assessment] in Cork. This is a significant reduction from 1747 in March 2018.
“Almost 1000 ASD assessments were completed in Cork in 2019.
“On average, 60% of the monthly AON applications received results in a referral for an ASD assessment, this is a significant challenge in terms of our capacity to respond to this need.”
The HSE say their children’s services in Cork will be streamlined in 2020 with the rollout of Progressing Disability Services for Children (PDS).
“Services in Kerry and West Cork have already re-configured and are now structured according to the PDS model.
“Cork County North and Cork City will reconfigure in the months ahead.”
However, Evaleen Whelton of AUsome Ireland, an autism advocacy group, says accessing services is still an issue.
“Currently, a child needs a diagnosis to get services. But even after diagnosis, the child can be put on another waiting list to access these services.
“Unless parents have the money to go privately, they will be waiting, which is very unfair.”
Ms Whelton is also calling for a more child-centred approach. “Some children who are autistic may not need a lot of therapy.
“Some may need speech and language therapy if they are non-speaking, to assist them with a different method of communication, for example using an iPad.
“Others may require occupational therapy if they have an issue with their motor skills, but this isn’t necessarily because of autism. They may have a coinciding condition like dyspraxia.
“One size doesn’t fit all. What do the children need now? This should be assessed rather than waiting for an autism diagnosis.”
Ms Whelton says there is also fear around a child not receiving early intervention. “This creates anxiety in parents. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 36 and many others are diagnosed well into adulthood.”
“We can allow a child to develop at their own pace… some intervention, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis, is based on the idea autism is ‘wrong’ and needs to be fixed.”