The long waiting lists in children’s disability services are a “really shameful indication” of where we are as a society.
That is according to a mother whose young son has verbal dyspraxia – and had to wait four-and-a-half years for his first HSE Speech and Language therapy session.
She was speaking as the Families Unite for Services and Support (FUSS) campaign group prepares to hold protests across the country today.
The group is calling for urgent action to address the crisis within Ireland’s “grossly underfunded” children's disability services – with demonstrations getting underway at 10am.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Evelyn Byrne, whose eight-year-old son Charlie has verbal dyspraxia said it took four-and-a-half years to get him seen by a speech and language therapist through the HSE.
“Children with speech and language communication needs are a forgotten cohort of children because they generally don’t need to be in hospital and they don’t need expensive medication – all they need is a speech and language therapist,” she said.
“If you have a child with speech and language communication needs it is proven they are six times more likely to have clinical levels of anxiety, clinical levels of depression and they are going to have issues accessing the curriculum once they go into school – so difficulties with numeracy and literacy.
“Without providing that early intervention, really you are setting the children up to fail at the earliest step.
“They are already at a disadvantage when entering into school so early intervention is critical and it is the only documented research available.”
Ms Byrne said Charlie’s disability has a huge impact on his everyday life.
“Charlie can’t say his own name,” she said. “Charlie is most of the time unintelligible, although he is a very effective communicator.
“His world is very, very small because really, unless you are around Charlie all the time, it is incredibly difficult to understand him.
“So, there are safety concerns of course about Charlie around letting him be anywhere that’s not around people who understand him. Also just sitting in classroom with around 20 other kids with a lot to say but no means of saying it – that’s a worry really for us."
She said no parent wants to share details of their private life so publicly or have to protest for vital services.
“Having to stand outside Leinster House or anywhere else to ask for basic services like occupational therapy, physio or speech and language therapy – it really is a shameful indication of where we are and how we value our most vulnerable,” she said.
“Unfortunately, this is not a new news story. I mean Newstalk has been talking about this for years. We have been on this journey since 2015 and unfortunately, nobody is looking at the cost implication of not supporting our children when they need.”
She said studies in the UK have shown that investing £1 early on in a child’s life saves more than £6 later on.
She urged all parents listening to her story to “think about your own child”.
“What if it was your child in school and unable to access curriculum?” she asked “What if it was your child without a voice, unable to access SLT? What if you were a vulnerable parent and you couldn’t afford private therapies? We are very privileged to be able to do so but most people can’t.”
Earlier this week, Newstalk revealed that over 450 children have been waiting longer than two years for their first speech and language assessment.
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