World Autism Awareness Day is about more than generating understanding; it is a call to action.
To mark and celebrate the day the Irish Society for Autism is calling on the Minister for Health, James Reilly to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to all people on the Autism spectrum by moving forward with the Autism Bill; a strategy which is vital to protect and enhance the lives of children and adults with Autism in Ireland.
The incidence of Autism is now generally accepted to be 1 in 100, which is a dramatic increase from the rate of 1 in 2,000 in the eighties. Despite this, Ireland still does not have an Autism strategy or an Autism Bill.
The Autism Bill, introduced to the Dáil last year by Labour TD Michael McCarthy, is a piece of legislation which will put an obligation on the State to provide services for adults living with ASD. The advancement of this legislation will mean that future governments, regardless of their complexion or hue, will have to meet the needs of people with autism and ensure a more equal delivery of services across the country, be that an educational, health, housing, economic or social service.
The Irish Society for Autism is now very concerned about the very slow progress being made to advance and implement this strategy. Specific Autism strategies exist across the other Celtic nation countries i.e. Wales, Scotland and, more recently, Northern Ireland. The Cross Party Autism Strategy (2013 to 2020) and the Autism Action Plan (2013 – 2016) was recently published by the Northern Health Minister Edwin Poots. The Northern Ireland strategy and action plan includes: an Autism Awareness campaign; planned improvements in accessibility to goods and services; Support families living with Autism, including more access to information about support and services available; and the establishment of a multi-agency autism advice service pilot in the Northern Ireland and Social Care Trust.
Ireland cannot afford now to fall further behind in implementing a similar strategy. For too long, people with autism have faced barriers in terms of consistent access to services, a societal misunderstanding of the condition and historic under-funding of the sector. A national autism strategy will break down those barriers and disintegrate the stigma around the condition so that people with autism can lead fulfilling, independent lives and have their rights recognised in legislation.
On 8 March 2013, politicians from every party stood up in support of this legislation and it is vital now that we keep up the momentum to ensure that there is a cross-party movement to improve and enhance the lives of people with autism in Ireland.