Autism services must be priority for Health Minister: McKillop

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SDLP councillor Margaret Anne McKillop has called on Health Minister Simon Hamilton to properly resource Autism services available to children in schools across the Borough.

Cllr McKillop paid tribute to her party colleague Fearghal McKinney who tabled a public petition in the Assembly recently calling for the backlog in Special Educational Needs Assessments for children with autism to be addressed.

Cllr McKillop said: “There are over 1300 children across the North waiting to be tested for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who continue to be let down by delays in diagnosis and delays in Special Educational Needs (SEN) assessments.

“The current target for assessment is 13 weeks. At the end of April, 1,449 children were waiting for assessment; more than 900 had been waiting longer than the recommended 13 weeks. Of those, 476 had been waiting more than 26 weeks and more than 78 children had been waiting over a year to be assessed. These are children who, if diagnosed with ASD, will have been denied the help and support they need inside and outside school during the time that they spent waiting for a diagnosis to be completed. This is unacceptable for some of the most vulnerable children in society.

“We’re working to set up a support group for children with Autism and their parents or guardians. I’m acutely aware that the delay in providing statements of Special Educational Needs for some children is placing an immense strain on families and negatively affecting development for many. I’m keen to do whatever I can to ensure there is some support available for those in this difficult situation.”