Suffer the Children

I am the parent of an autistic son who is extremely sensitive to all noise, particularly electric noise. My wife and I discovered the extent of this sensitivity when the energy-saving light bulbs were introduced. When my son walked into the kitchen, where we had recently installed these new bulbs, he immediately put his fingers into his ears, screwed his face up tight and said: “Blue light off, please Daddy. Blue light off!” I was sitting directly under the light and had not noticed anything. My son was standing at the door, over four metres away, and he found it intolerable. Can you imagine how he will be affected by pylons carrying 400kV power lines?

We, and many other parents of autistic kids and indeed children with other intellectual disabilities, deliberately moved to the country so to be away from the city with its high levels of ambient noise, including electrical noise, and disturbance.

Do you know that at night it can be so quiet in the countryside that I can hear the cows crunching grass in the field opposite? Can you imagine how that silence will be shattered by clanking pylons? More specifically, how my son’s silence will be shattered by the electrical noise coming off those cables? How will my son be able to sleep with that noise? Consequently, how will the rest of my family sleep as my son will become highly agitated and noisy when awakened by this distressing noise? What must I do when that distress causes my son to self-harm?

It is the ultimate irony that the open space of the countryside, to which I fled with my family for those peaceful qualities, is now so attractive to wind turbine owners and the pylons needed to connect those wind farms to the grid.

The other very real concern is flight risk. My son, like many autistic children, has no sense of danger and will run away (and into the road) at the first opportunity that presents itself. It is one of the reasons that many parents of autistic kids cannot avail of the respite services that are offered, as most of these facilities have ‘open-door’ policies. Running away is not actually a good way to describe it as he is not running away from anything, but rather seems to feel the need to rush into an open space. Again, the countryside, with its minimal traffic and quieter roads, is far safer than a city with all those vehicles. Even so, my property is fenced and gated, not to keep people out, but rather to keep my son in and safe. My deepest fear now is that the electrical noise coming off cables and pylons will disturb him so much that he will attempt to run from that noise. The potential consequences are too painful to even contemplate.

It is not easy being the parent of an autistic child in any country, but in Ireland, where essential services and therapies are so stretched as to be bordering on non-existent, it is an increasingly difficult challenge. With this proliferation of electricity around us, the question must be asked: Will this mean that more children will be diagnosed with autism (in addition to leukaemia and other forms of childhood cancer) in the future? Will this in turn put further strain on these already chronically-oversubscribed resources? When Minister Rabbitte and EirGrid did their cost-benefit analysis of Grid25, did they take into account this cost, not just in monetary terms, but in terms of intense human suffering?

Very little research has been carried out linking EMF and Autism, but this is what I do know:
• Although Autism is usually defined by behavioural problems, biologically it involves disturbances which are strikingly similar to those caused by exposure to EMFs.
• Compared to other adverse health effects, there has been relatively little research into a link between Autism and electric and magnetic fields from power lines, or those emanating from mobile phones and masts. But this does not mean that there is no link.
• There has been a huge increase in Autism in recent decades, and this corresponds, with surprising congruity, to the increase in exposure to EMFs from both domestic wiring and transmission lines as well as those from telecommunications.
• It has been discovered that Extremely Low Frequency EMFs at a level far below that which causes heating, can remove Calcium ions from the cell membranes in the brain. Calcium ions help to hold the cell membranes together, losing just some of these ions can destabilise the membrane and therefore it is more likely to leak. Membrane damage allows free radicals to enter the cellular system and also allows substances which are usually kept separate to become mixed. Electrical messages transmit across the surface of the cell membranes, if this is damaged it could affect the signals getting to the cells interior.
• ELF EMFs also create stress proteins in cells, which signals that the cell is in distress. Plants, animals and bacteria all produce stress proteins when they are under attack from environmental toxins and adverse environmental conditions. The fact that cells produce stress proteins when they are exposed to EMFs means that the cell recognises the exposure as harmful and it happens at levels far below those found close to a 400kV power line.
• It has been known for many years that EMFs disrupt production of Melatonin. A lack of this hormone, which is a powerful antioxidant, has been linked to other health effects, including Breast Cancer. People with Autism commonly have lower levels of melatonin and also suffer from sleep disorders.
• One of the problems facing scientists is the fact that usually Autism is not diagnosed until the age of 2 or 3 (in this country probably even later because of the lack of early diagnostic facilities), which means that it is difficult to characterise the changes in development early on. It is of real concern, however, that exposure to EMFs, both ELF & RF, has been shown to elicit some of the changes in brain tissue that has been documented in Autism.

Considering that there is more evidence of adverse health effects from EMFs than there is from passive smoking, it seems incredible that the Government is planning on introducing a law to ban smoking in cars when there are children present and yet they wilfully ignore the health risks associated with power lines.

As the parents of an autistic child, we attempted, with other parents, to open a school for autistic children in Waterford. We were blocked at every stage of the process by the Department of Education, for a variety of spurious reasons. We finally gave up, out of frustration and exhaustion (

The previous government betrayed the special needs children of this country, by doing nothing when their help was needed. This government intends to go one step further, by attacking those children in their own homes.

Despite showing huge promise as a result of intensive therapy in South Africa (a “third-world” country), my son regressed dramatically because of the lack of specialist education and tuition in Ireland. Similar stories to ours were occurring throughout the country, despite the fact that the ‘Celtic Tiger’ was still in ascendancy at the time. These stories are still occurring now.

If this government was to abandon its slavish adulation of the wind industry, and pursue the biomass option (converting Moneypoint power station to biomass boilers) it could save over THREE BILLION EUROS. Can you imagine how many schools for people with intellectual disabilities could be built with that sort of money? Can you imagine the state-of-the-art facilities that could be built for not only people with intellectual disabilities but also for those with mental illnesses?

Minister Rabbitte speaks of Ireland becoming a world leader in renewable energy, which is political doublespeak for saying that Ireland will become the wind-farm for Europe, a dumping ground for their electrical clutter. Have you travelled to Germany (the current ‘leader’ in renewable energy) recently? The whole (once beautiful) country looks like an industrial estate.

Would it not be wonderful if Ireland could become a leader in cutting-edge research into intellectual disabilities, or be admired for our trend-setting facilities for those with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses? Instead of being treated like ‘Aul Dumb Paddy’ by the rest of Europe, who happily dump their shit in our countryside, why can’t we be a true world leader for once?

Such is the moral decay of this government (and perhaps this country?) that they are more interested in lining their own pockets and those of private wind farm owners than protecting the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. As a good and wise man once said: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God”.

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from full-time practice in 2002 to take up a lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). His current interest is the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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1 Response to Suffer the Children

  1. Pingback: An Opportunity Missed – Callaghan vs. An Bord Pleanála and the Attorney-General | The Law is my Oyster

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