Today Dail Eireann debates the Autism Bill 2012, tabled by Michael McCarthy TD, the bill, if passed, would require the Minister of Health to develop, implement and maintain a cross-departmental strategy for the support of people with autism throughout their lives, along the lines of similar legislation and strategies already in place in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. But …. What’s it all about? What will strategies actually do for people with autism? What are its chances of passing? These are all big questions people will ask today so here is a brief explainer of the Bill. You can see the the Bill, as tabled to the Dail here.

What’s the background to the Bill?

For many years Ireland has lagged behind other countries in the area of providing a “cradle to grave” support system and plan for those on the autistic spectrum and their families. This bill will seek to emulate the successes of the Autism Bills in Northern Ireland and England, and the Autism Plans in Scotland and Wales, in setting out a clear strategy and long term plan for people with autism in Ireland and the provision of services into the future.

What does the Bill propose?

The Bill makes amendments to the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act so as to specifically mention Autism and provide protection to those with the condition

The Bill proposes the establishment of a National Autism Strategy, to be composed and overseen by the Minister for Health, and implemented across Departments, Local Authorities, the HSE and various state agencies. The strategy would be in place within 2 years of the passage of the bill and a revision of the strategy would be required every 7 years. In addition every 3 years each participating Department or Agency would be required to submit a progress report to the Minister for Health who in turn would have to compose an overall Progress Report which would be laid before the Oireachtas for scrutiny

What conditions would be covered by the Strategy

The Act covers all conditions on the Autistic Spectrum and specifically names sub-conditions such as Aspergers Syndrome, Rett’s Syndrome, Heller’s Syndrome and PDD-NOS

What services would be included in any strategy:

The services covered in the strategy would include, but not be limited to, healthcare, education, employment and social needs.

What would the Strategy include?

Support Services

The strategy would place a strong emphasis on ensuring that support services for people on the Autistic Spectrum go beyond their time in education or childhood.

The strategy would set out how the needs of people with Autism can be met by service providers  in terms of employment, social inclusion and access to services. Equally the strategy would seek to direct the development of family support services for the families and carers of adults with Autism.

Making access to services easier and more equal is also a requirement of any strategy to be formed under the Bill, with a “Pathway to Care” required to map services for adults with autism after diagnosis and to ensure consistency of services across the state and accessibility to all adults with Autism.

A best practise model for service delivery, in line with international expertise, would be required under the strategy to cover diagnosis and assessment for adults with the condition and intervention services for autistic service users. In addition a requirement would be put in place for a clear system of accountability and scrutiny relating to service provision, with Ministerial oversight in this regard.

Service Providers

The strategy would require guidance to be given to local health service providers on meeting the needs of adults with autism and their families/carers.

The strategy would also detail the need for support service for families and how they can be developed across statutory, voluntary and independent agencies.

All bodies, agencies and local authorities covered under the Act will be required to:

  • Provide all relevant staff with autism awareness training.
  • Provide specialist autism training to specialist staff working in the area
  • Appoint an autism lead
  • Set out a clear pathway to diagnosis/assessment for adults with autism.
  • Commission services to support people with autism in accordance with adequate population provision

Long Term Planning & Research

An emphasis is placed in the Bill on long term planning and research, under the Bill the strategy would require service providers to put in place data collection systems to record the number of adult clients who are on the autistic spectrum and to calculate future and current needs for adult-based services. As well as this the strategy would be require the Minister to initiate research into the prevalence of Autism among adults in  Ireland and their needs

Public and Professional Awareness of Autism:

The strategy would also require the Minister for Health to work to increase public awareness of Autism through the planning of an Autism awareness campaign which would include a website, posters and media strategy. In addition autism awareness training would be required to be put in place for all professional service providers who come into regular contact with people with Autism.

What are the chances of its successful passage.

The Bill has been welcomed by the Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly, which gives hope that it may be supported by Government and thus have sufficient votes to proceed through all stages at both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Bill also enjoys the support of all the opposition parties in the House.

Obviously it is early to say whether or not it will be passed but we will keep you posted on its progress through both Houses and also on any amendments made to the Bill before it is either rejected or sent to the President for his signature



Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom /