MLA welcomes autism funding

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There was a welcome locally this week for news of additional funding to speed up the diagnosis of autism.

It came from Lagan Valley MLA Jonathan Craig, who recently chaired at Stormont the final All-Party Group for Autism meeting ahead of May’s election.

Mr Craig said he was delighted with the DUP Health Minister Simon Hamilton’s pledge of £2 million towards the creation of 35 new posts across Northern Ireland in an effort to speed diagnosis.

“This is not something which has occurred by chance,” he said.

“Both Autism NI and the all-party autism group have been lobbying the minister for the past six months around these issues, where referrals have almost doubled in the past year.

“We welcome the minister’s commitment to see referrals to autism services improved.

“It will take time to sort out, as staff now need to be recruited, but things should start to improve over the next few months.”

The All-Party Group for Autism was set up in 2008 as one of the first all-party groups formed by MLAs.

It was the result of a visit to Washington DC, led by AutismNI in 2007, to see how the United States government established legislation for autism.

At this month’s meeting the MLAs planned for the continuation of the APGA’s role to observe implementation of the Autism Act being carried through.

AutismNI provides secretariat for APGA.

David Heatley, Chair of AutismNI, Dr Arlene Cassidy MBE, CEO of AutismNI and Eileen Bell CBE, Vice-President of AutismNI, attend all APGA meetings, recording the minutes and supporting the assembly members in various ways.

David Heatley said he was grateful for the regular attendance by Jonathan Craig at the APGA meetings and what he called the MLA’s constructive contributions.

He said it was encouraging to see the MLA heavily involved in fighting for those on the autism spectrum.

AutismNI has a local branch in Lisburn, meeting on the second Monday of each month in Trinity Methodist Church from 7:3o-9:30pm.

For further information on Autism NI and the Lisburn meetings, call 028 9040 1729.