Children in Derry with autism are having to wait up to twenty-three months for an occupational therapy appointment, it has emerged.

Independent Nationalist candidate for the Moor, Emmet Doyle, believes current waiting times in the Western Trust area are “totally unacceptable”.

Mr Doyle lodged an FOI request with the Western Trust asking how long a child on the autism spectrum has to wait for an occupational therapy appointment.

In response, the Western Trust explained that children with an autism diagnosis may access Occupational Therapy (OT) from core occupational therapy services, Regional Integrated Support for Education in Northern Ireland (RISE NI) or from within the children’s autism service.

The spokesperson added: “The current waiting time for Core OT is a maximum of 23 months.  This includes all children waiting an OT assessment and is not specific to ASD.

“The current waiting time for Occupational Therapy within RISE NI is 11 months.  Again, this is for all children and not specific to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

“The current waiting time for occupational therapy within the Children’s Autism Service is 18 months.”

A person who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often has trouble communicating and interacting with other people; his or her interests, activities, and play skills may be limited as a result.

Occupational therapy helps people with autism develop these skills at home and in school.  An occupational therapist works to develop skills for handwriting, fine motor skills and daily living skills.

However, the most essential role is also to assess and target the child’s sensory processing disorders. This is beneficial to remove barriers to learning and help the students become calmer and more focused.

Mr Doyle believes it is “totally unacceptable” for anyone to be waiting this long to access vital services, but for young people on the autism spectrum it is “even more outrageous”.

He continued: “I know our healthcare staff are doing all they can and deserve all the support we can give them, but our politicians who have abandoned the health service for the last two years must shoulder the blame for these atrocious waiting times.

“In the time I have been campaigning I have come across dozens of families who require Occupational Therapy in particular to allow their children to develop and grow in a suitable environment.

“I have no intention of letting them wait at the mercy of a political system that has failed us all and will be doing my utmost in the coming weeks as I have been, to lobby health chiefs for more accessible services for families whose loved ones are on the spectrum.”

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