People with autism should be supported throughout their lives - Poots

That was the message from Health Minister Edwin Poots, as he provided the opening address at the National Autistic Society’s Conference in Belfast today. The theme of the conference, the first time it has been held in Northern Ireland, was ‘Understanding and supporting individuals with autism’. 

Addressing an audience of cross sectoral professionals and families of people with autism, Minister Poots said that a new draft cross-Departmental Autism Strategy and Action Plan is presently being finalised. 

He said: “I am keenly aware that people living with autism and their families rarely need the services of only one Department or public service organisation. I am encouraged that the content of today’s conference complements the joined-up approach of the cross-departmental Autism Strategy for Northern Ireland.

“The changes envisaged in the Autism Strategy and Action Plan can only be achieved through the continuing commitment of government departments and other statutory bodies, working alongside people with autism, parents and carers, as well as the community and voluntary sector.”

Minister Poots also paid tribute to the work of National Autistic Society in Northern Ireland. He said: “Since the Northern Ireland branch was established in 2004, it has been pivotal in assisting and complementing the public sector in its delivery of autism services. The focus of the National Autistic Society locally has always been on providing a wide range of services and activities to people with autism, their families and carers, as well as to the professionals that support them through the challenges of daily life.”

The Minister concluded: “Looking forward, I am committed to putting in place arrangements to maximise the potential, participation and inclusion of people living with autism throughout their lives and at the same time provide support and encouragement to their families.”

Notes to editors:

1. Resulting from the Autism Act (NI) 2011, the Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety is leading on the development and publication of the cross-departmental Autism Strategy (2013 – 2020) and Action Plan (2013 – 2016).

2. The Strategy sets out the strategic direction for the further development of services and support for people with autism, their families and carers and the Action Plan contains the key actions with associated timescales for the delivery of these services and support over the period 2013 - 2016. 

3. The documents acknowledge and recognise the need for cross –departmental working.

4. It is planned the Strategy and Action Plan will be finalised and published, subject to NI Executive approvals, by the end of 2013.

5. The National Autistic Society NI provides information, support, pioneering services and campaigns for a better world for people with autism. The NI branch provides information about services and activities in Northern Ireland.