He says it will also make a meaningful difference to the lives of people with autism and their families.
Speaking in the Assembly at the Second Stage of the Autism Amendment Bill, the Foyle MLA said: “This is a vital piece of work and I hope it will provide a springboard towards the creation of a more equal, supported and fulfilling environment for individuals with autism, their families and their carers.
“I feel the crux of this legislation is the provision of early intervention services which is in dire need of transformation. C
“Currently there are over 4,500 children waiting for an ASD diagnoses across the North.
“That’s thousands of children and their families left without support, struggling in a class of their peers without the assistance they desperately need.
“It’s clear the current system has failed each and every one of them. And while early intervention is key, it needs to be backed up by an autism strategy which explicitly examines a new funding model.
“So, while I agree with the sentiments of this Bill and the ambitious ideas set out on paper, to put those plans from paper into practice – to deliver real change and benefit people’s lives requires the provision of adequate funding from the Executive.
“The outworkings of the autism strategy cannot be left battling for financial support at every juncture.
“No comprehensive conversation on autism can be had without acknowledging the toll the last 18 months has taken on people with autism and their families.
“Lockdown and its aftermath has undoubtedly impacted on all our lives but for those living with autism, this period has been wrought with unimaginable challenges.
“A system which establishes the needs of autistic individuals and their families to cope with the repercussions of Covid-19 and beyond is vital.
“As a society we have made leaps in improving support and developing our understanding of the needs of people with autism – yet we are nowhere near the finish line.
“The envisaged future of an enlightened, inclusive society depends on the creation of communities where those with autism their families and carers can feel understood- whether that’s in their education, access to supported housing or finding suitable employment.
“I am under no illusion that this framework is a panacea but it is a start. As autism advocate Dr Stephen Shore succinctly puts it, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve meet one person with autism’.
“As such, it is important that any autism strategy for the north takes into account of individualised needs – it must retain inbuilt flexibilities as we grow and learn as a society in our understanding of autism.
“If we all show just a little more compassion and awareness of how autism can affect others, we can make great strides in making autistic people feel safe, secure and included in our communities.
“This Bill is a step in the right direction and I look forward to its implementation,” added Mr Durkan.Tags: