A variety of different professionals and services are involved with diagnosing autism and managing day to day life. It can be a stressful task in itself trying to keep up to date with all of them, knowing each of their specialised roles and who to reach out to when a problem arises.
This section outlines those professionals, their respective skill sets, and how they may be contacted when needed.
ASSESSMENT AND INTERVENTION TEAM (AIT)
These are HSE teams made up of different professionals who offer a range of different services and supports for children up to 13 years old who have complex developmental needs. They are divided into two groups; Early Age Teams are involved in assessing and supporting children aged 0-6 years old, whereas School Age Teams deal with those aged 6 to 13. An occupational therapist, psychologist, physiotherapist, social worker and speech and language therapist are among the professionals who make up the teams’ memberships.
Normally, you will need a referral from your GP to see an Assessment and Intervention Team.
Assessment Officers are responsible for carrying out one’s eligibility for an Independent Assessment of Need. They are contactable at local HSE offices throughout the country. If you are or your child are eligible, the Officer may decide to conduct the assessment themselves or to appoint a suitably qualified practitioner.
Additionally, the Assessment Officer may liaise with a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO), working with the National Council for Special Education. As to educational needs for yourself or your child, the SENCO should respond to the Assessment Officer on behalf of the Education Sector.
Given how sensitive many autistic people are to sensory stimulation, scheduling an appointment with a professional is strongly recommended, especially for younger children who are struggling with speech and language development. Audiologists carry out many vital services in this area and are invaluable resources to any personal care team. These supports include auditory conditioning and training based on known deficits, speech and language processing training, and introduction to Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs).
Your GP, paediatrician or hospital consultant can make a referral to an audiologist. Alternatively, you can independently find and register with audiologists whom you know, working privately or as part of the HSE, on the Irish Academy of Audiology’s website.
COUNSELLOR & PSYCHOTHERAPIST
All of us experience challenges with our mental health at some point in our lives. Many autistic people, as well as their families, find counselling to be helpful, whether during the diagnostic process or as a follow-up service. Sessions are conducted with a trained professional at an agreed place and time with a duty of confidentiality on the counsellor’s part.
Counselling services may be accessed through a variety of ways. You can ask that your GP refer you on to one working for the HSE’s Counselling in Primary Care (CIPC); through your workplace, or school or college; or you can self-refer on to a private therapist from the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
DEVELOPMENTAL PAEDIATRICIAN (DP)
Paediatricians are clinicians whose work is specifically concerned with children’s and young people’s health and well-being. Developmental paediatricians have specialty interest, training and experience in the development of children; how they grow, how they gain knowledge and skills, how they learn to behave and socialise.
These clinicians are frequently part of Assessment and Intervention Teams at your local HSE Office, although you may request that your GP refer you directly to a developmental paediatrician at any time before or during their Independent Assessment of Need.
Autistic people, especially children and young adults, often struggle with consistently maintaining a balanced and healthy diet for themselves. A dietician is an excellent resource to reach out to for advice on nutrition as well as planning and revising existing dietary habits.
Your GP, Assessment and Intervention Team or hospital consultant can refer you on to one. Dietitians working privately may also be found on the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute’s directory.
EARLY AGE TEAM (EAT)
Early Age Teams are involved with assessing and providing support for children ages 0-6 years old. Those experiencing developmental delays and persistent challenges in their self-care, independence, communication skills and managing their feelings benefit from seeing an EAT.
Referrals for children under 5 years from GPs are usually needed to access an EAT’s services.
EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST (EP)
Educational Psychologists are responsible for assessing the learning needs of students within schools. They will accordingly recommend the different types of supports individual students will require during their education. They offer consultation, advice and support to teachers, parents and to the children, young people and adults concerned.
Educational Psychologists are often employed by the National Educational Psychological Services within schools, but may also be involved as part of the diagnostic process as members of an Assessment and Intervention Team if you or your child are of school age. You may request that your family doctor refer you on to one, but several psychologists work privately.
GENERAL PRACTITIONER (GP)
Your registered family doctor (GP) is your point of contact for organising referrals with the relevant professionals and organisations. Whilst GPs themselves do not normally offer specialist advice or treatment for autistic-specific needs, they are nonetheless essential members of any personal care team, responsible for your general health, prescribing and monitoring medications.
GPs will work on the HSE or privately. Depending on your circumstances, you may be entitled to a Medical or Visit Card, which will enable you to visit a GP working on the HSE free of charge. You can find one local to you on the HSE here.
HEALTH SERVICE EXECUTIVE LIAISON OFFICER
Upon the Independent Assessment of Need’s completion, a HSE Liaison Officer (known also as a Case Manager), will be assigned to you. They are responsible for drafting your Service Statement which details the different types of support that you or your child requires. A Statement must be completed within a month of receiving the assessment report and may be amended by the Liaison Officer if circumstances surrounding your case change. You may appeal to your Officer if you feel that the Statement is inaccurate, if your child is found not to have a disability and you disagree, or if the services outlined in your child’s Service Statement are not being delivered.
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST (OT)
Occupational Therapists are responsible for developing strategies and skills for people to live independently and carry out day-to-day tasks. These techniques include sensory integration interventions, facilitating play activities to instruct and aid children in their social interactions with others, and developing ways for individuals to transition from one environment to another.
HSE Assessment and Intervention Teams will usually have an occupational therapist as one of their members and can be referred on to from you GP. Alternatively, you can search for private practitioners in your area on the Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland’s online directory.
Motor co-ordination is a challenge for many people across the spectrum. Younger children may fall behind their peers as their motor skills become more refined as they grow. Skills, such as handling a ball, bike-riding and running are often much harder for autistic people. Physiotherapists can assist in similar ways that occupational therapists might, yet they tend to chiefly focus on physical skills’ initial development rather than their finer regulation.
Your GP may refer you to a physiotherapist on the HSE. Alternatively, if you wish to access physiotherapy through the private sector, make sure your therapist of choice is fully qualified and a member of a recognised body. The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists offer the details of practicing therapists.
Assessments and diagnoses of autism can be undertaken by psychiatrists. Follow-up services following a diagnosis may involve visiting a psychiatrist to plan strategies for accompanying issues such as thought-processing and managing feelings. In the event that significant behavioural issues or complications in mental health arise, psychiatrists are often involved in the treatment process, conducting therapy, prescribing and monitoring medication if necessary.
Normally, you will need a referral from your GP or Child Development Team to see a psychiatrist. Private psychiatrists are also available.
SCHOOL AGE TEAM (SAT)
School Age Teams are involved with assessing and providing support for children with identified developmental disabilities ages 6-13 years old. These disabilities’ effects are beyond academic circumstances and typically include challenges around communication, social interactions, self-care and independence.
Referrals for children under 5 years from GPs are usually needed to access an EAT’s services.
SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS CO-ORDINATOR (SENCO)
A SENCO is responsible for the implementation of a mainstream school’s special educational needs policy. Among the ways in which they can help autistic students include devising learning plans, exam preparation and technique development, and providing SNAs and writing equipment. Regularly liaising with parents and also feature among their responsibilities.
Meeting the care needs of autistic people often involves a social worker. Help is typically sought after when difficulties arise because of challenging behaviour, mental health problems, and during transitions into independent living. Social workers develop strategies to cope with and overcome these issues, as well as provide access to services meeting family needs.
If you do not have a named social worker or are unsure of your status, contact Tulsa – the Child and Family Agency. You may also request that your GP, paediatrician, your child’s school or Assessment and Intervention Team refer you on to one.
SPEECH & LANGUAGE THERAPIST (SPT)
Speech and language therapists can help autistic individuals with all manner of communication problems, including their social skills, self-organisation and developing interpersonal relationships.
Typically, speech and language therapists are a part of HSE Assessment and Intervention Teams, or can be individually referred on to by your GP. Private therapists, as with most specialists, are available and whose practise details can be researched for on the Independent Speech and Language Therapists of Ireland’s online directory.