'Mind-boggling' - Autistic children with anxiety 'being turned away by CAMHS'

Families for Reform of CAMHS appeared before an Oireachtas committee today
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

18.00 17 Jan 2024

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'Mind-boggling' - Autistic chi...

'Mind-boggling' - Autistic children with anxiety 'being turned away by CAMHS'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

18.00 17 Jan 2024

Share this article

Families of autistic children have said it is 'mind-boggling' that those with severe anxiety or depression are being turned away by CAMHS.

They have been outlining challenges faced in accessing mental health supports.

Families for Reform of CAMHS appeared before the Oireachtas Health Committee today.


They are calling on the Government to commit to 49 recommendations from the Mental Health Commission, including the regulation of CAMHS.

They also want to see an end to "discrimination against autistic children" in mental health services.

Spokesperson Hannah Ní Ghiolla Mhairtín told The Hard Shoulder the reality is different to the policy.

"The policy position is very much that CAMHS is the appropriate service to provide mental health services for autistic children," she said.

"The reality seems to differ very much.

"I suppose because we are the first national, family representative group we're being able to start to identify different patterns".

'Pretty shocking'

Ms Mhairtín said a survey of their members last August found 85% of families with an autistic child had some negative experience accessing supports.

"We were due to give a presentation at Leinster House before Christmas so we went out and did another survey," she said.

"The different stories that were coming in were pretty shocking.

"We have children with severe anxiety, severe depression, with suicidal ideation and they're being turned away by CAMHS.

"They're being told that there is not evidence of a moderate to severe mental health issue.

"For us, that is mind-boggling".

'A bit of a lottery'

Ms Mhairtín said families face a postcode lottery in getting treatment.

"Once they hear a child might be autistic or they suspect autism, they say that the Child and Disability Network Team should be looking after the children," she said.

"The Child and Disability Network Team don't specialise in mental health services, we're not looking for access there.

"Some of our children are seeing them anyway, some are not, just depending.

"Once they see the word autism it does seem to lead to the children getting turned away.

"It's not consistent across all CAMHS services; some doctors will treat autistic children, some will not.

"So, it seems to be a bit of a lottery".

'Completely discriminatory'

Ms Mhairtín said such conditions are treatable.

"Anxiety, depression - they are separate and very importantly treatable conditions," she said.

"To deny treatment to autistic children is completely discriminatory, we're just trying to raise that issue.

"We've kind of seen developments in recent months which makes us fear that this problem is getting worse rather than getting better," she added.

Listen back here:

Main image: A parent and child walking together, 18-4-22. Image: Алла Чеснокова / Alamy

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Autistic Children CAMHS Families For Reform Of CAMHS Hannah Ní Ghiolla Mhairtín Leinster House Mental Health Commission Oireachtas Health Committee The Hard Shoulder

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