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East Belfast: Autism Support Services

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Sammy Douglas Sammy Douglas DUP 2:30 pm, 22nd November 2016

T3. Mr Douglas asked the Minister of Education to outline what autism support services are available for children and families in east Belfast. (AQT 518/16-21)

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Direct funding for support services goes from the Department to the Education Authority, and it ensures that there is a range of educational provision to support children with autism, their families and schools in east Belfast.

The Education Authority's autism advisory and intervention service provides support to pupils in schools through training and advice to teachers, and individual interventions with pupils. It also provides support to parents and families.

Specifically in east Belfast, there are parent training and workshops available. They include autism awareness, appropriate and effective home interventions, autism and relationships, social and study skills, transition to post-primary school, sensory processing difficulties, and personal independence skills.

I think that parent training is provided at various times and locations to accommodate, where possible, parental preferences. The training is advertised through the child's school setting, which includes the preschool setting. It is also advertised through email and local health trusts.

School training programmes in east Belfast include autism awareness, appropriate and effective classroom and school interventions and adjustments, inclusion for children and young people with autism, social skills, sensory processing difficulties in the school environment, enhancing communication skills in the school setting, and topical issues such as girls with autism. It is provided in the school setting or at an off-school site.

I think that there is training for other groups in east Belfast that support children with autism, including voluntary organisations, health professionals and youth centres. They also provide consultation and advice and work collaboratively, particularly with the Middletown Centre, which has a level of expertise.

In addition to the autism support that I outlined, there are other provisions and services in the Education Authority, including the early years inclusion team and educational psychology and behavioural support.

Photo of Sammy Douglas Sammy Douglas DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer thus far. I want to thank him as well for attending the Helping Hands autism resource centre in Ballybeen. Maybe the Minister could look at what help or support could be provided to that organisation, which is a group of families and volunteers.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I very much enjoyed my trip there. There is tremendous potential in addition to what is already happening in Ballybeen. There is potential for the future there, and I know there is ongoing work.

I suppose there are two aspects to this. The direct-funding organisation in each case would be the Education Authority because it would have overall responsibility for special needs. There is specific education funding for special needs through the Education Authority budget. There is also £33 million of resource funding for youth services because this can also come under youth services.

Under article 37 of the Education and Libraries Order, the Education Authority has direct responsibility for the provision of those services, and, indeed, youth services. It covers a wide range, and can be between the ages of four and 25, which is very much within the remit of Helping Hands.

I understand that Helping Hands is currently registered with the EA's Youth Service and is, therefore, receiving resource funding. Additionally, a call has been made for the voluntary youth capital scheme to fund groups that are registered with the Education Authority, and Helping Hands is eligible to apply for that. There is a direct source in that, but there is no specific open call beyond that. I congratulate Helping Hands on its work so far and wish it every success for the future.