Dáil Éireann - Volume 486 - 28 January, 1998
Written Answers. - Autism Incidence.
Mr. P. Carey Mr. P. Carey
553. Mr. P. Carey asked the Minister for Health and Children if his Department has a register of children who have the condition known as autism; the number of children who are registered with this condition; the increase, if any, there has been in the incidence of autism among Irish children in the past ten years; the provision, if any, which is made for the education of these children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1359/98]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen) Brian Cowen
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): The National Intellectual Disability Database,  which was launched last year, includes information on the needs of all persons with a mental handicap, including persons with autism, although the specific disability is not included. As part of the implementation of the recommendations of a policy document on services to persons with autism which was published in 1994, the health boards have been obtaining additional information on the needs of persons with autism in their regions and, in particular, on those who require or will require specialist services.
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 5 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 a “autistic continuum” which stretches from those severely affected to those with only a mild disability. There is increasing recognition of the condition of autism here. Whether this is due to a greater awareness leading to better ascertainment or whether there is actually a true increase in the prevalence of autism has not yet been determined.
Overall responsibility for the provision of educational services for children with autism is a matter for the Department of Education and Science. I understand from my colleague, the Minister for Education, that children with autism have access to a range of educational services which, depending on the nature of the support required, are provided in mainstream schools, with the support of remedial teachers, special schools for children with a mental handicap and those for children with emotional/behavioural disorders. The Department of Education and Science also established in the 1995-96 school year a pilot programme specifically for children with autism which is currently being reviewed. The health boards provide a range of assessment and diagnostic services and support services, such as home support and respite services for children with autism and their families.
Dáil Éireann 486 Written Answers. Autism Incidence.