Members of the Legislative Assembly. Thousands of
autistic kids and adults as well as their family
carers will find themselves in bucket-loads of hardship
if Stormont collapses and the much-needed Northern
Ireland Autism Act is shelved.
helping people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
could be the key to unlocking the current stalemate
in the peace process.
Act would guarantee the rights for ASD sufferers
and those who care for them. According to the charity
and pressure group Autism Northern Ireland (ANI),
cases of autism in the North have trebled in the
last three to four years
more frighteningly, there are now more ASD sufferers
in the North than the combined totals for those
with Downs Syndrome and Parkinson's Disease.
has been burning the midnight oil continuously during
2006 to ensure that if a power-sharing Executive
is formed by the 24 November deadline, the Act will
be one of the first pieces of legislation MLAs will
vote on and could be law by Christmas.
than four weeks ago, speakers from all five of the
Assembly parties called for a united approach to
the treatment and support of people with ASD.
Fein, the DUP, Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Alliance
all voiced their support for the Northern Ireland
Autism Act and representatives from the five parties
signed a public petition, entitled Blueprint for
Change, which will see the Act on the Northern statute
books within weeks of a fully operational Executive.
the futures of so many people at stake, and as the
parent of an autistic 11-year-old boy myself, we
autism activists have been left wondering
if all you MLAs support the Act, what's your problem
in setting up the Executive?
all this public show of unity for the Act is not
just a publicity stunt to get a few well-chosen
soundbites or photocalls?
Valley DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson - a very keen supporter
of the autism cause - voiced his public support
for the Act, as did Sinn Fein's Upper Bann MLA John
O'Dowd. We witnessed the Paisley party and the Shinners
singing from the same hymn sheet so why not
go the extra mile and add another verse which seals
the deal on Stormont?
tell me all the fine rhetoric on a unified approach
to autism was merely a ploy to get us parents and
carers off your backs for the summer?
the other parties want an Assembly because that
is the only method by which the Act will become
a living, working reality. We are told the future
of the Executive rests solely on the moves by the
could we ever trust the DUP again if its MLAs tell
us they support the Act, and then hypocritically
dash our hopes in November by shafting Stormont.
DUP has always pumped out the propaganda it is the
party Unionists can trust. But ASD transcends all
class and religious barriers.
the DUP let down ASD sufferers and carers, it could
leave us pondering the question is the Paisley
camp really a shower of selfish fundamentalists
who are more interested in point scoring than combating
one of the most devastating conditions in the Northern
dedicated autism centre is already planned for Middletown
in Co Armagh. The island needs two more such dedicated
centres one in the North East of Ireland
in north Antrim, the other in the South West of
Ireland. A fully working Executive will guarantee
totally agree with Autism NI Chief Executive Arlene
Cassidy's heartfelt plea to MLAs: We are spreading
the word that autism is no longer waiting for social
justice. Autism has found a voice and that voice
demands legislative protection for autism; autism
is striving for equality.
of us can work together to achieve something that
is within our grasp, within our ability, within
our resources and within our sphere of influence.
Unionist boss Reg Empey is equally confident the
Act will be a hit with all 108 MLAs, adding it could
be passed at Stormont through a Private Members
Bill as there was a guaranteed chance of getting
it though at Stormont.
legislation exists in both Wales and Sweden
so why can't we have it here in the North? Autism
NI is now drawing up an ASD strategy that should
the Executive be formed by the November deadline,
the Act will be one of the first laws which the
108 MLAs have to vote on.
the meantime, sufferers, carers, relatives and activists
are all praying the signed cross-party support for
the Act is the much sought-after the trigger which
prompts Unionists and Republicans to re-constitute
the power-sharing Executive.
fate of a quality lifestyle for thousands of ASD
sufferers now rests in the hands seemingly of the
DUP. It is now with just over 100 days to go to
the 24 November deadline if the DUP's Christianity
is genuine or just a silver-tongued sham.