Belfast Telegraph

Autism services to be reformed

Autistic people will see services brought into the mainstream by changes to the way they are treated, it has been claimed.

Reforms would ensure that people with autism in Northern Ireland are included in disability legislation and that comprehensive services are provided to them and their families from their earliest years through the course of their lives on a cross-departmental basis.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder which affects the way a person communicates with other people. There are difficulties with the ability to understand and predict other people's intentions and behaviour and to imagine situations outside of their own routines. This can be accompanied by a narrow repetitive range of activities.

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley is piloting the Autism Bill Northern Ireland through the Assembly.

"The Bill, by giving recognition in law to the need for required cross departmental planning and buy-in, will make a real difference to families. This measure assures families that government recognises the lifelong and whole life commitment and reality of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorders), and gives assurance of the potential of service development in harsh economic times through shared funding initiatives across departments," he said.

"It recognises that ASD is a shared responsibility within our community and that duplication and confusion can be addressed. It should help ensure that life transitions, uniquely distressing for individuals with Autism, can be better planned, resourced, and managed."

There were 30,000 people with the disorder in 2007.

Mr Bradley chairs the all-party Assembly group on autism.

"The current programmes of care within the Department of Health are totally inadequate. The amendment to the Disability Discrimination Act in this bill will help to ensure that they will no longer suffer discrimination due to anomalies," the Newry and Armagh MLA added.

"There is also evidence that some public bodies use the current inadequate definition in awarding benefits as Disability Living Allowance. Additionally, some pupils with autism are being punished for offending school discipline codes for behavioural reactions that are beyond their control."

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