CORK and Kerry have a combined waiting list of 1,578 children overdue an assessment for a suspected disability – 40% of the country’s overall figure.
And one Bandon mum is so desperate to get her son’s special needs officially assessed so she can avail of supports quickly, that she has taken out a credit union loan of €700 to pay for private assessment.
The two-and-a half year old toddler from Bandon, who has suspected autism, has been waiting nine months for his Assessment of Need (AON) which would give him access to things like an SNA at pre-school, as well as speech and occupational therapies.
Early intervention is known to be essential for maximum progression for children with autism. However, the West Cork mum is so frustrated at the lengthy wait, which legally should be started within three months of application, and completed in six, that she’s getting it done privately in Waterford.
‘My partner and I had no option but to put ourselves under this financial pressure. Without an official assessment, our son is completely blocked from getting supports. It’s a nightmare scenario,’ she said.
An AON allows a child access things like specialist pre-schools, special classes or allow a school to apply for an SNA on their behalf. Some school places specifically require a HSE AON diagnosis.
Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Disability, local Deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahony said without an AON, families were faced with a huge ‘road block.’ She described the waiting times as ‘cruel’ and said she’s seen first-hand the anguish and anxiety it is causing families in her constituency.
‘I can’t over-estimate the frustration and exhaustion I see among those who are waiting for what is their legal right under the Disability Act,’ she added.
The 2005 Disability Act states that the AON examination must commence within three months of an application, and completed within a further three months.
Claire Desmond, chairperson of Bandon Autism Group, has seen the delays being experienced by her members.
‘Our club is supporting around 10 families who are waiting for an official diagnosis. Many of them are pre-school age, but simply can’t go as they don’t have access to special supports,’ she said.
Deputy Murphy O’Mahony said she believed delays were caused by staffing levels: ‘We have been promised 129 teams every year for the past three years, and every year the HSE has failed to meet that target,’ she said.
The figures for children awaiting assessment were released to RTÉ by the HSE.