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Mother to wait 11 months for 'early intervention' appointment for daughter with autism

Waiting lists for occupational and speech therapy appointments are at breaking point around the country.

2 Sinéad Brennan and daughter Aobha

A MOTHER-OF-two in Co Mayo has been given an ‘early intervention’ appointment for her daughter, who lives with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by the HSE – for six months from now.

Secondary school teacher Sinéad Brennan received the notice of the appointment for her three-year-old daughter Aobha last week. Aobha is elder sister to Sinéad and husband Michael’s other daughter, two-year-old Laoise.

Sinéad spoke out on Twitter about her frustrations with the delay after receiving Aobha’s appointment letter, and has gained a great deal of attention with her tweet.

The couple first made contact with the HSE last October and an initial assessment of Aobha, who was experiencing sensory and integration difficulty, was carried out.

On 8 December 2015 a recommendation was given that occupational and speech therapy be carried out and that Aobha be given an appointment for early intervention.

On 2 February this year Aobha was officially diagnosed as having ASD. She remains on the waiting list for speech and language therapy. Sinéad understands this is because the current therapist for the region is on maternity leave and has yet to be replaced.

“We received the letter last Friday,” Sinéad tells regarding her letter of referral for an early intervention appointment in Castlebar.

So there will be a gap of 11 months between Aobha’s diagnosis on 8 December last and her appointment in November. And this is for a review appointment. We don’t even know if this will be for an actual session as she doesn’t appear to be in the system at present.
When I first got the letter I rang them up because I presumed it was a typo.

“The delay is just holding Aobha back, when she could be reaching her full potential,” she says.

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When contacted for comment on the situation a HSE spokesperson said: “While there have been pressures on the local early intervention services in the Mayo area we can advise that all urgent cases continue to be prioritised.”

The HSE cannot comment on individual cases, however, we would advise the family to contact their local health office for direct advice and assistance.

Waiting lists

This is a topic gaining a great deal of traction at present.

A report in today’s Sunday Independent suggests that over 2,000 children aged under-five are currently on occupational therapy waiting lists, with the hardest-hit counties being Laois, Offaly, Carlow, Kilkenny, and Roscommon.

Additionally, nearly 850 people have been waiting over 18 months for speech and language therapy treatment.

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Last week Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary, who represents the Brennans’ Mayo constituency, raised the problem of therapy waiting lists in Dáil Éireann.

An example he cited in his speech is that of a child who was initially referred for speech and language therapy in March 2015. That child was eventually seen in August, but has been waiting on an early intervention appointment ever since.

In response Minister for Health Simon Harris said that “each individual that presents to the HSE’s speech and language therapy service has an initial assessment to determine their individual need for therapy”.

The therapist, in conjunction with the parent or carer, will determine the severity of the individual’s difficulties and prioritise for therapy accordingly.

He added that detailed proposals are in train at the HSE with regard to reducing the waiting lists being seen for therapy appointments.

An answer to a parliamentary question tabled by Calleary on the subject indicates that, following initial assessment, there are 60 such cases on the therapy waiting-list classified as high priority in north Mayo, with a further 26 cases classified as low priority.

Meanwhile, there have been 101 referrals to speech and language therapy services in the area in 2015 up to 17 May, “yet there is no full-time speech and language therapist assigned to the Ballina area”.

The area is covered by travelling practitioners from Castlebar on an irregular basis.

“Tip of the iceberg”


Sinéad, for her part, believes that the situation is just the “tip of the iceberg”.

“There are other parents in far worse situations than this,” she says.

But to sum it up, dealing with the diagnosis of autism for your child is already difficult. The total lack of services just makes the situation that much harder.
Hopefully this will bring the situation to light, I’ve received so much support already and had contact from many other parents in similar circumstances.

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