Petition criticises autism provision in Northern Ireland

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A Northern Ireland councillor has launched an online petition demanding better care for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in the province

The petition, launched by Alliance Party councillor Kellie Armstrong (North Down and Ards), is the latest in a series highlighting the failures of the health and education systems in Northern Ireland in respect of children with ASD.

The petitioners say that children are waiting more than 20 months for an assessment, that there is little follow-up once an assessment takes place and there is a lack of specialist provision in schools.

They are calling on both Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Department for Education to commit to the Autism Act and to meet the needs of children with ASD within the next Northern Ireland Assembly period (2016-2021).

Their specific demands include that no child has to wait more than 12 weeks for assessment; that following assessment a specific and clear pathway of (multi agency) support is provided for each child from diagnosis through adolescence and beyond; and that appropriate investment for equipment, training and resources are provided for schools and parents groups to enable children with ASD to achieve their full potential.

Councillor Armstrong, whose brother has learning difficulties, said,

Children with autism and other learning disabilities are being consistently failed by our health and education system and I’m not prepared to stand by and let it continue.

I’m well aware of the stress on families and the need for greater support. My brother has learning disabilities and I grew up in a family that fought for years for better services for him so that he could have the best opportunities in life.

I proud to lead this petition, calling on both the Health and Education departments to commit to the Autism Act and to meet the needs of children with ASD within the next Assembly period.

At the time of writing the petition is close to achieving its target of 5,000 signatories.

A Health and Social Care Board spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph that a regional review of the development and delivery of autism services was being carried out.

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