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Warning over autism crisis

Autism services are facing a crisis because of the number of cases, a campaigner claimed today.

Up to one in 64 have the condition and there needs to be an Assembly bill and more money for hard-pressed providers, a Stormont committee heard.

Arlene Cassidy, chief executive of Autism NI, addressed an OFMDFM committee meeting today.

"What we have at the minute is a crisis facing services because of the number of people with autism. Exceptional measures need to be addressed," she said.

Autism is a social and communication disability. Some will have accompanying learning difficulties. It can leave people withdrawn with little ability to form friendships.

Ms Cassidy said there had been a huge increase in the number of people with autism, from one in 100 some years ago to one in 64, and called for fresh legislation.

She added there was no confidence in parents of autistic children about where money was coming from.

"This bill could be and will be supported by the wider disability community," she added.

"People with disabilities are in other programmes of care and the budgets for these disability groups are being stretched to accommodate autism."

Ms Cassidy has alleged existing legislation did not allow for or recognise autism.

Parents are having difficulties in accessing benefits such as disability living allowance, she has added.

They are having problems in accessing social opportunities that would be open to other groups because there is a lack of awareness.

The Assembly debated autism in March. Kieran McCarthy from the Alliance Party, on behalf of Stormont's all-party group on autism, today endorsed the call for fresh legislation.

Naomi Long said the committee would have to consult with other committees before deciding the way ahead.

Ian McCrea was among those voicing support.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has said an autism action plan will deliver significant improvements in services to all those affected. There has been an independent review of services by Lord Maginnis.

The minister has said an independent review concluded that they did not regard autism legislation as necessary or appropriate at this stage. An independent report carried out by Sir Jonathan Michael in England also looked at the need for legislation and came to the same conclusion.

"However, no-one should doubt the urgency and importance attached to autism services and the actions I have taken," he said.

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