News & Media

Victory for autism community as Government backs Labour’s National Autism Empowerment Strategy

30 April 2021

Statement by Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
Spokesperson on Education, Enterprise and Trade

Speaking after Labour’s motion calling for a National Autism Empowerment Strategy was accepted by Dáil Éireann last night, education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin thanked all members of the Dáil for their support. The Government must now act in line with the will of Dáil Éireann and publish plans to implement an Autism Advisory Council, paving the way for a national strategy to empower autistic people to live full and equal lives in Irish society.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“This is a huge victory for the autism community. Their tireless campaigning has not been in vain and I am delighted that the Minister and Government have decided to heed our calls. I want to pay particular tribute to all of my Dáil colleagues for coming together to back this vital cause. It is a true testament to the tireless work of advocacy groups and parents’ bodies who have campaigned hard to end the current two-tier system for accessing supports.

“The ownership now rests with the Government to act without delay and provide a step-plan for how it will deliver an Autism Empowerment Strategy that takes a rights based approach to the inclusion and acceptance of autistic people. Parents have spent far too much precious time fighting with the State for far too long. They deserve and they need better. Our motion provides a pathway to better outcomes for parents, children and all autistic people.

“To ensure accountability for autistic children and adults, and their families, the Government’s first step must be to instruct an Autism Advisory Council. This Council can then draft a national strategy rooted in statistics, providing oversight on Government implementation of same. This Council will be responsible for holding the Government to account, ensuring that people living with autism can find their place in society including education, health, housing, jobs and transport.

“From working with the advocacy and parents’ groups, a first area that should be considered by this Council is the urgent need to collect data on the impact of Covid-19 on children with autism to properly assess and address the problem. From school closures to restrictions on amenities, these kinds of sudden and serious changes can present real issues in a person's routine and daily life. From DCU research published in August 2020, we know that 74% of parents of a child with ASD reported that they would be faced with unique challenges as restrictions lifted. Due to the past 18 months of limited social interactions some may face difficulties with social skills, skills that may have since regressed. This needs to be dealt with soon.

“It is time for us to change the narrative on autism in this country and how we can improve supports for people with autism and their families. I am proud and delighted that this motion has passed and that the Government will implement a strategy based on the Maltese Persons with the Autism Spectrum (Empowerment) Act 2016. There is a real need for a sustained autism inclusiveness campaign to equip everyone with the best information and end any biases, conscious or otherwise. We have much to learn as a society about the autism community to ensure that we are building inclusive communities.”