SDLP MLA and member of the All Party Group on Autism, Mark H Durkan has expressed serious concern that vital legislation to support individuals with autism may be delayed in the absence of an agreed budget.
In response to queries raised by Mr Durkan, Health Permanent Secretary Peter May outlined that financial uncertainty will have a significant impact on delivery of the Autism Strategy including the appointment of an Independent Autism Reviewer.
The Foyle MLA said:
“It’s unforgivable that this vital piece of work should hit a stumbling block at the final hurdle. Autism legislation in Northern Ireland hasn’t been fully updated since 2011 leaving hundreds of people living with autism and their families without vital support.
“I also have serious concerns around the failure to appoint an Independent Reviewer- this role is an important one, created to improve accountability and ensure the Autism Strategy is implemented and effectively meeting the needs of people with autism.
“A great deal of work has gone into the development of this strategy within the last few years, not least the contribution from individuals with autism who know all too well the failings of the current framework. Just last week, we heard from parents of children awaiting ASD assessments and how they’ve been battling a system stacked against them.
“We’re now hearing that long overdue reforms, including the creation of early intervention services, may be further delayed. The sooner an ASD diagnosis can be given, the sooner support services can be accessed. At present there are over 4500 children awaiting assessment. The implementation of the Autism Strategy provided a glimmer of hope for those families, but now they're left with further uncertainty and more importantly without critical support. No child should be neglected on colossal waiting lists, with families left fighting for support to which they are entitled.
“The Autism Strategy has the potential to transform lives and it can’t be delayed. Once again, DUP intransigence continues to punish the most vulnerable.”