Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Autistic Children Statistics.


asked the Minister for Health the number of autistic children in in the Western Health Board area.

I have been informed by the Western Health Board that there are approximately 60 autistic children in the board's area.

I thank the Minister for the information. In view of the fact that there are 60 children who have been diagnosed as autistic and that there is no specialist unit, good bad or indifferent, to deal with this very specialised area, is it not long overdue that the necessary finance be made available to end the trauma and to provide adequate services for this very special area of illness?

I do not accept that the Western Health Board have no facilities in place, in fact the Brothers of Charity provide a service for some of the children and the Western Care Association also provide a service for children in County Mayo. On a number of occasions in this House we have dealt with the question of a specific service for autistic children and as to whether they should be seen as separate from mental handicap or not. In the Eastern Health Board area a small group which includes parents has been formed to try to develop the services in their area. We will then do an evaluation to see what is the best way to proceed. Where the numbers are small I am not sure that the correct way to go is to have a specific service for autistic children. If the children had to be in residential care, many parents would like to have them near home where they can go and visit them. The issue is under continuous review not alone in this country but in other countries as well.

I am one of the founders of the Western Care Association. The organisation deal entirely with the mentally handicapped, but I have a pamphlet from the Autistic Society of Ireland which states that one of the major problems is the total lack of specialised facilities, other than mental handicap units or psychiatric hospitals and these are totally unsuitable.

I want to be as helpful as I can to the Deputy but he is transgressing by quoting during Question Time. Indeed his question was essentially statistical, I gave him some latitude——

On that very point, the Minister seems to treat it merely as statistics.

Please allow the Chair to conclude its remarks. I was saying that I gave the Deputy some latitude in the matter. It is essentially a statistical question and matters pertaining to policy require separate questions.

The Minister seems to treat all aspects of health as merely statistics. Could I ask him to give a definition of autism and to state the classic symptoms, and the treatments needed and to say if those treatments are being given?

We are entering into the area of policy.

I am entitled to ask——

I have made my position quite clear and I have given Deputy Higgins some latitude.

With due respect, Sir, I think the Minister should answer the question.

Is he not in charge of policy?

That is a matter for the Chair.

The Deputy has just asked a question about medical science and that is not a question of policy. The Deputy asked what were the symptoms of autism and that is not a question of policy. The main distinguishing feature of autism as distinct from other aspects of mental handicap is the withdrawal that these children——

I call No. 16.

May I ask the Minister——

I am sorry, Deputy Mitchell, I have called Question No. 16.

A Cheann Comhairle, I want to pursue this question. I think I am entitled to.

I am sorry Deputy, I will not permit you to defy the Chair.

The whole country is in uproar over the Minister's handling of health matters.

If the Deputy wishes to make a speech on the health services, he will have to find another time.

May I ask a question, Sir?

No. I have called Question No. 16.

I want to raise a point of order, and even you cannot rule that out of order.


Deputy Mitchell is taking on the Chair.

I am asserting my rights as a Member of the House and I seek the protection of the Chair.

You shall have that, but you, too, will conform to the rules of the House.

What is your point of order?

I want to ask the Minister to go back to the question——

That is not a point of order. I call Question No. 16.

Deputy J. Mitchell rose.

The Deputy is insisting on frustrating the Chair and I must now ask him to resume his seat.

I will, Sir, but I want to pursue this question. I want to raise a point of order.

I must ask you now, Deputy Mitchell, to leave the House.

We could all go.

Deputy Yates rose.

Are we not going to have any order in this House?

On a point of order——

You have made your point of order, Deputy.

We would not be here if we could not ask questions.


It is a biased approach to the protection of the Minister. The Minister is protected when he does not want to answer questions.

It is a statistical question and it would facilitate me, a Cheann Comhairle, if Deputies would put down a full question if they want an answer to it. With your permission, A Cheann Comhairle, I propose to answer Questions Nos. 16 and 74 together.

It is a sham.

I will hear Deputy Mitchell for the last time.

On a point of order, may I ask if I am entitled to ask the Minister what are the symptoms of the particular illness and what are the policy decisions made by him to treat those symptoms——


I have pointed out to the House already that Deputy Jim Higgins's question is clearly and essentially a statistical question. Matters appertaining to policy require separate questions. Question No. 16 please.

The problem is that the Minister only regards people as statistics.

I did not put down the question, Deputy.