An 11-year-old girl who sat the Junior Cert maths paper two months ago to raise money for autistic services has set her sights on completing the Leaving Cert next year.
ara Darmody, of Ardfinnan, Co Tipperary, took on the exam – which students usually sit when they are 15 – to raise awareness about how thousands of autistic children, including her brothers Neil (9) and John (5), are struggling from a lack of funding.
She raised €38,000 for special needs therapies for two local schools, and plans to do the same by sitting the Leaving Cert maths exam, which she describes as “the Mount Everest of maths”.
One of Cara’s biggest goals while taking on this challenge was to meet Taoiseach Micheál Martin to highlight the lack of autistic services in the country.
And last week she did just that when she and her parents traveled to Leinster House.
“When I told him what was wrong, he didn’t get mad or anything,” she said.
“He took it on the chin and he said he’s going to do something about it.
“I told the Taoiseach there’s permanent damage when there are no services given.
“There’s so many people struggling with their kids, but the HSE isn’t doing anything about it.
“Autistic children are being treated like third-class citizens, no actually, they’re treated like 10th-class citizens.
“One of the main things is that the Taoiseach accepted that this was a national crisis, and that something really needs to be done about this.
“But also the time has come for politicians to stop talking about this, and they have to bring action now.”
The fifth-class student said she explained to Mr. Martin that her brother Neil received significantly fewer services than his younger brother John, and he is struggling much more.
“For example, like the worst meltdown John would have is rubbing his eyes or he might bite into his hands or whatever,” she said.
“But they wouldn’t be that severe at all, while Neil will commit violence towards himself and hit himself and bite himself.
“John understands words, he can’t talk and there’s probably only a 0.1pc chance that he will talk, but there is a small chance because he understands the words while Neil doesn’t understand the words at all.”
Cara’s father, Mark Darmody, said: “We told the Taoiseach that in our opinion, what our politicians are failing to do is they are not holding the HSE to account and it is not acceptable that the wait list [to be assessed] is four or five years.
“We outlined that we would expect to see progress in a couple of months. But this is not going to end before June of next year, because a sixth-class girl sitting a sixth-year exam is going to resonate with people.”
A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said he had a “very good meeting” with Cara and her parents.
“Cara made a very powerful presentation on the needs of her two younger brothers and the services they require,” they said.