by Stephen Kealy


Spring, a time for new life, ever present in our immediate environment, an opportunity to experience the maturing of seeds sown, to observe new growth and change, to reap the rewards of careful husbandry—ever mindful of the dangers of an unexpected frost. What a season to enjoy.

Good growth depends on our preparatory spade work—continually wrestling with the weeds that can choke the survival of fragile plant endeavouring to retain their hold on life. The thoughtful gardener plans his/her work, making sure that rotation takes place as needed, that plants struggling in poor ground are given an opportunity to try new soil, more light, less wind and positioning them in a way that allows them opportunities to showcase their colour and fruit.

This issue of Frontline looks at autism in Ireland—what opportunities exist for many with an ASD profile. Anecdotally, from the reports of clinicians working in early intervention around the country, the number of individuals presenting with a diagnosis of ASD appear to be high. Many of those diagnosed have been identified through the assessment of need, or through early intervention services, or perhaps through both processes. Strictly speaking, the assessment of need is not a diagnostic process, but if a need is apparent then clearly it has to be stated against the child’s presentation.

A recent article in The Examiner has rightly attracted extensive negative feedback for the author, as the underlying theme ignores the huge understanding from research and practice about Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Many people with ASD have now opportunities to live a better quality of life because of that research, and our growing understanding of autism, particularly the need to have an individualised approach that fosters relationship.

From the various articles published in this issue, it is evident that better outcomes are possible when an individualised approach is implemented for those presenting with ASD. This understanding is also equally true for any child with a disability who comes into an early intervention service. Again anecdotally, clinicians working on early intervention services have signalled how meeting the legislative imperative of the Disability Act can have a negative cascade effect on addressing actual interventions, which are the essential, nurturing spadework of an individualised approach.

A fundamental goal of early intervention is to provide opportunities to ameliorate a child’s disability and to parents to further develop their competencies. If a disproportionate amount of allocated resources are tied up in meeting a legislative imperative, without available corresponding resources to address those identified needs, it is then reasonable to question the value of allocating huge clinical resources to a process which re.states to parents what they possibly already know about their son or daughter.

Is it time to think again about how meaningful individualised services can best be delivered to children at a young age, so that a difference can be made to their lives with lasting positive effects?