Cork parents protest at lack of autism services

Cork parents protest at lack of autism services
Parents, children and assistance dogs gathered at Chuckies, Sarsfield Road to highlight the lack of HSE services available to Cork families with autistic children. 6-year-old Luke O'Flynn builds a block tower, with his mum Suzanne O'Flynn. Pic; Larry Cummins

The HSE has been accused of not listening to parents of autistic children, who say their children are suffering due to a lack of services in Cork.

A crowd of parents met yesterday at Chuckies Play Zone in Wilton to discuss their struggle to gain access to much needed autism services in the region.

Cork woman Suzanne O’Flynn said children are waiting months or longer for services and some even struggle to get on waiting lists for vital services.

“Families across Cork are so frustrated with the system because it’s almost impossible to get timely access to these services.

“The government and everyone are constantly shouting about the importance of early intervention but we can’t get access to it,” she added.

Suzanne’s son Luke (6) was diagnosed with Autism at two years of age.

He attended Sonas Special Primary Junior School in Carrigaline for the past four years, where he thrived.

Luke enrolled in St Killian’s Special School this year and has since been unable to access waiting lists for multidisciplinary services in Cork such as Occupational Therapy, and Speech and Language services.

Suzanne said she has tried to gain access to these services but to no avail.

“He thrived at Sonas, where he had access to a team, but now he’s deteriorating in front of my eyes.

“It’s heartbreaking to do everything you’re asked to get these services for your child and to still be refused,” she added.

“This is the reality for so many parents out there.

“Our children are being left behind.” Luke has also been denied access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, because he cannot access a multidisciplinary team.

“The HSE are just not listening and our children are suffering,” said Suzanne.

The latest figures show that the between August 2017 and August 2018, Cork Kerry Community Healthcare received a total of 1,120 referrals for assessment under the Disability Act.

Children and young people born on or after 1st June 2002 who are suspected of having a disability can apply for an Assessment of Need (AON) under the Disability Act (2005).

The figures also show that the number of children seeking an ASD assessment has risen by around 100 in two months, from 900 to more than 1,000.

Children who need ASD assessments are referred to three service providers in Cork.

Waiting times for an ASD assessment at the Brothers of Charity ASD Service at Marian House and at the Cope Foundation at Bridgeway are now around two years Meanwhile, the shortest waiting times are at St Joseph’s Foundation at 12 months.

The HSE admitted this represents a significant challenge in terms of their capacity to respond to the need for ASD assessments.

Accessing Autism services in Cork is a constant, daily struggle which can span decades, according to Cork woman Tracy Doyle, who has five children, two on the autism spectrum.

Her daughter, Mia (10) was awaiting an initial assessment for so long that Tracy felt there was no other option but to pay for a private assessment.

Her diagnosis ensured Mia got a place in St Killian’s. However, because it was not a HSE assessment, Mia did not qualify for intervention or services from the state.

“We had to have Mia assessed by the HSE but she was too afraid to go in for the assessment,” said Tracy.

“We actually got a dog from My Canine Companion and it’s made a huge difference, Mia is a new child and she was able to go for the assessment.

“She was again diagnosed as being on the spectrum but that was last year and we haven’t been offered any services since,” she added.

“I have experience as a Special Needs Assistant so I can cope somewhat but a lot of parents are not in that situation.

“It has a huge impact on the lives of the whole family.” Tracy had a similar struggle gaining access to services for her son, Cian, who is now 18.

“There are no services here in Cork,” she said.

“We’re crying out for help and the HSE just aren’t listening.

“Being a full time carer is a very tough job and the lack of support is so frustrating,” she added.

“Particularly for younger parents, they might feel very alone and lost.” 

As well as increased staff and services, Suzanne said providing training to parents who are new to autism would be a huge help.

“We’ll do anything to help our kids but we need more support.

“More staff, more services, they’re crucial but if there was classes to help us deal with it, we’d all be there, we’d do anything,” she added.

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