Currently, fewer than one in 10 children with disabilities are receiving an assessment of needs (AON) within three months of an application, despite this being a legal requirement for the Health Service Executive (HSE). As well as assessing a child’s needs, the AON is used to identify which services would be beneficial for the child’s health and development. Unfortunately, some children are waiting years to be seen, leaving parents struggling to access support and treatment such as occupational or speech therapy. Further investment will undoubtedly be required to improve assessment services. In the meantime, the government has announced funding for a scheme that will enable children with disabilities to enter pre-school childcare. From an early and accurate assessment soon after birth to allowing access to appropriate support throughout childhood, ensuring children with disabilities and their families are properly supported is essential for development to progress.
Importance Of Early Diagnosis
Although many children with cerebral palsy receive a diagnosis soon after birth, for others it can take longer. Parents can look out for developmental milestones, the behaviours or skills that demonstrate a child’s progress in cognitive and physical areas at various ages. However, without an early diagnosis, therapies that could help children reach more of these milestones could be delayed. According to the latest figures provided by the HSE, over 20,000 children with disabilities are already waiting for an initial assessment for occupational therapy, and there are also long waiting lists for physiotherapy and speech and language therapy. Given the importance of these services, reducing these waiting times for children must be a priority for the HSE.
Ensuring Adequate Assessment
Even when assessments are available at an early stage of development, it is important that they are rigorous and properly implemented. The Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists has recently drawn attention to a new method of assessment for children with speech difficulties, which they claim should be stopped as it is not helpful to children and their families. The Preliminary Team Assessment or PTA only takes an hour and a half, and members feel that not only is it not sufficient to make a reliable diagnosis, and that the assessment itself is unethical when considered in terms of the Disability Act.
Treatments And Interventions
Ratified by Ireland almost 30 years ago, The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also states that children with a learning difficulty or physical disability have the right to treatment, care and education that can allow them to live as independent and active a life as possible. In many cases, a child’s disability team will work closely together to coordinate any necessary support and therapies, such as occupational therapy, to develop everyday skills or physiotherapy to improve physical movement. When assessments are adequate and carried out appropriately, these treatments can begin promptly, helping children to reach their full potential.
With an early assessment followed by appropriate care throughout their childhood, children with disabilities are given a better chance to reach developmental milestones and lead a more independent life. It is therefore important to ensure these services are readily available, fit for purpose and rigorously implemented.