Autism Bill relief for families

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The passing of the North’s Autism Bill has been as a move which will make a “huge difference” to hundreds of Derry families.

The new legislation which was passed at Stormont this week, will broaden the scope of the Disability Discrimination Act to ensure that people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder fall within its anti-discrimination protections. It will also force all government departments to cooperate in devising and implementing a strategy for people with autism.

Derry mother Jillian Latimer, whose 10 year-old son Alex has severe autism, told the ‘Journal’ that the new legislation will ensure that people with all levels of autism and their families and carers get a “fair” deal.

“Autism covers a spectrum of ability, from able bodied to severely disabled - taking in Asperger syndrome to very severe autism.”

She added: “The passing of this Bill is a very important step for people in our position. It will mean that people with autism are treated fairly and cannot be discriminated against. It will make a big difference to a lot of people.”

It’s estimated that up to 1,100 people in Derry are living with autism, many of whom have not been diagnosed.

Mrs Latimer paid tribute to local SDLP MLAs Pól Callaghan and Pat Ramsey for their “hard work” is lobbying for the new legislation.

Mr Callaghan said: “There has been huge interest in this bill from families across Derry. The passing of this bill shows what the Assembly can achieve when we work together in the interests of the people who we serve.

“For too long, autism has been a Cinderella of the disability sector. At long last, this bill means that people with autism and their families can at last go to the ball.”

As Derry’s only Stormont Health Committee member, Mr Callaghan has “been contacted by many frustrated Derry families” in recent months.

“Too often they have felt that they were the first family to present a child with autism. Others have complained about the duplication of certain services. This bill is about ensuring that the needs of autistic people are meet and that the efforts of our frontline workers are better coordinated across departments.

“This bill sends a bigger message out. We have done something different to England, Wales or Scotland. It is made to suit needs of people in Derry and around the North. For people with autism, direct rule finally came to an end on Tuesday.”