Durkan reiterates call for mandatory autism training in local schools

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has supported a motion on the introduction of mandatory autism training in schools.

Friday, 7th February 2020, 9:45 am
Mark H Durkan with Kerry Boyd, CEO of Autism NI.

Last year Autism NI submitted a petition of over 10,000 signatures to the Department of Education calling for this provision, which was subsequently deemed ‘premature’.

Speaking in the Assembly, the Foyle MLA said: “The exponential rise in autism and ASD related diagnoses in recent years, is testament to the urgent need for this provision. Speaking with teachers and parents within my own constituency and further afield, there is a clear want and need for mandatory autism training- a 10,000 strong petition further highlights this demand. I must commend Autism NI and other campaigners for their continuous work to support those living with autism and for bringing the fight to this point.

“We need a proactive, not reactive, approach towards autism within our schools- we must ensure that teachers are equipped to meet this ever-increasing need.

“It is fair to say I was dumbfounded by the Department’s response which deemed the proposal ‘premature’- I would argue it’s long-overdue.

“In my opinion the Department’s response was premature, considering the inarguable statistics relating to the severe lack of adequate autism services within education.

“The Minister must now listen to the public and clear evidence, where his Department would not.

“It seems we must foster a change of attitudes not within the public sphere but rather with the powers that be. This issue needs to be progressed and pressure applied to ensure this vital training is implemented.

“When it comes to education, no child should be left behind - we must create an education system that provides fair and equal access to all needs. But we must be mindful that this support and early intervention is required not only in schools but at home. Especially in the early days after diagnosis, it is crucial that families and individuals are supported - I know for many people who having won their battle for diagnosis who were then left in limbo. Home support would ensure that families can adjust and cope in the intervening period.”

Mr Durkan said the inconsistencies per constituency must also be addressed to guarantee that resources are utilised.

“Last August I discovered that the Western Trust was unable to spend funding allocated for autism pathway- despite over 800 people waiting assessment. This befuddled many, particularly those doing sterling work to support families and individuals throughout the trust area. I am pleased the Trust have since confirmed huge steps have been taken to address this,” he said, adding:

“It would be beneficial for all pupils within our schools if mandatory autism training were implemented, all children must feel adequately supported on their education journey. “Additionally, it is integral that those with autism have input in the design and delivery of this provision going forward.”