A MOTHER has criticised the lack of autism spectrum services in Cork, saying that her child has been unable to access speech and language therapy for two and a half years.
Mairead O’Regan, who lives in Pouladuff, says her daughter was diagnosed with a specific speech and language disorder and used to receive speech and language therapy for this.
“She started receiving speech and language therapy when she was two, and again when she was five,” she said. “I then thought I should get an Assessment of Need, in case she had autism. I applied for this when she was nine and all therapies stopped as soon as she was put on the Assessment of Need list.”
If a child has a disability or a parent thinks their child may have a disability, they can apply for an ‘Assessment of Need’ through the HSE. This assessment identifies the child’s health needs and what services they require.
“I was advised it was only going to take three to six months for this assessment to be completed, so that’s why I put her on the list,” says Ms O’Regan.
County Cork has been identified as one of the worst in terms of the waiting times for Assessments of Need, with some children waiting two years.
The HSE’s guidelines recommend all assessments should be completed within six months. Ms O’Regan’s daughter was diagnosed with autism in June 2019, after waiting for two years. Since then, she has struggled to get answers as to what the next steps are to access therapy.
Ms O’Regan eventually found out that her daughter is on a waiting list to access speech and language therapy.
“It was September 27 that I was told of the waiting list, and it was in August that I started inquiring about it,” she said. “I was told it will be 18 months until she can be seen. The last time she had speech therapy, she was nine, and she could be over 14 before she’s seen again. This has been going on for two and a half years. She’s in sixth class now.”
Going for private speech and language therapy is not an option: “I’m a carer. My mam has Parkinsons and I look after her. I can’t go private.”
Speaking about the lack of services more generally, Ms O’Regan says it seems like “no one cares.”
“My daughter is only a child and she’s a human being too. Once you’re put on a list, everything just stops,” she said. “She’s getting no help. When she was attending speech and language therapy, her speech came on an awful lot.”
The Cork mother also worries about her daughter starting secondary school next year.
“She’s not going outside the door, she’s not talking in class. I can see what’s happening to her in front of my eyes. It’s just not fair.”
The HSE, when asked if a child’s therapy for their initial diagnosis stops once they apply for an Assessment of Need, said in a statement: “The HSE will endeavour to cater for a child’s needs within the resources available.”
When asked if a child has access to their old therapy if they are given a new diagnosis after a completed Assessment of Need, the HSE said: “This will depend on the individual case.”
The HSE said: “The child is referred to the most appropriate available service to meet their needs” when asked if the child is automatically put on a waiting list or required to attend a new service as soon as they are given a new diagnosis.