A 41-year-old former care assistant has been convicted of assaulting a man with severe autism, who he had been caring for at a residential centre in Montenotte, Co Cork.

David Atkinson of Thornton Park, Whitegate, Co Cork, appeared before Cork District Court today and admitted "prodding" 31-year-old Joe Duane with his foot, in what was described as an error of judgement on 22 October, 2013.

Judge Aeneas McCarthy convicted David Atkinson of assaulting Mr Duane and fined him €500, after hearing that he had no previous convictions and had been dismissed from his job at the Cope Foundation.

Mr Duane is severely and profoundly autistic and he is non-verbal.

His family describe him as a gentle person, who is deeply loved.

For more than 20 years, Mr Duane has been in residential care with the Cope Foundation, which supports more than 2,000 children and adults with autism and intellectual disabilities.

Defence solicitor Anne Marie Sheridan said David Atkinson acknowledged using his foot to "prod" Joe Duane to stand up during a confrontation between Mr Duane and another resident.

Ms Sheridan said Mr Atkinson had intervened to prevent serious injury and she described his use of his foot as an error of judgement.

After today's hearing, Mr Duane's family thanked the gardaí  who investigated the case, as well as the two women - believed to be cleaners working at the Cope Foundation - who had reported the assault.

In a statement this evening, the Cope Foundation said it was deeply concerned about the assault on Mr Duane.

However the foundation refused to comment on questions raised by his family, asking why David Atkinson had been allowed to return to work after the assault had been reported.