Dáil Éireann - Volume 476 - 25 March, 1997
Written Answers. - Mental Handicap Services.
Miss Harney Miss Harney
52. Miss Harney asked the Minister for Health the number of persons who have been diagnosed as autistic; the number of residential places available for them; the support services, if any, which exist for their carers; the plans, if any, his Department has for improvements in services for persons with autism and to increase the number of specialist residential places for persons with autism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8129/97]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East) Michael Noonan
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East): Due to problems with definition, the exact prevalence of autism in Ireland is still open to debate. Depending on the diagnostic criteria  being applied, up to five per 10,000 children manifest autism to a marked degree. A greater number may show lesser symptoms and it has been suggested that there is an “autistic continuum” which stretches from those severely affected to those with only a mild disability.
My Department published a policy document on services to persons with autism in 1994. I am arranging for a copy of the policy document to be sent to the Deputy under separate cover. As part of the implementation of the recommendations contained in that document, the health boards have been obtaining information on the needs of persons with autism in their regions and, in particular, on those who require or will require specialist services.
The majority of persons with autism are in receipt of services within the mental handicap services including multi-disciplinary support services, residential, respite and day services and home support services. However, a minority do require specialised facilities. Specific services for persons with autism are available in the Eastern, North-Eastern, Southern and Western Health Boards which provide between 128 and 130 residential places overall. Planning for the development of further specialist facilities is being included by the health boards in their overall consideration of the needs of persons with a mental handicap and autism in their regions.
Additional funding amounting to £12 million has been made available in 1997 for services to persons with a mental handicap. £2 million has been used to meet identified needs in existing services. The remaining £10 million, which was announced in the budget, is being used to provide new services in 1997 including 160 new residential and respite places, 350 new day care places and the further enhancement of services to persons with autism in line with the recommendations outlined in the Department's policy document on these services.
Details of the precise services to be put in place in each health board region will be agreed by the regional mental handicap co-ordinating committees in line with the priority needs which have been identified for each region.
Dáil Éireann 476 Written Answers. Mental Handicap Services.