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Middletown Autism Centre consultation ‘informative’

17 January, 2008

Sinn Fein Newry Armagh MLA Cathal Boylan speaking after attending the latest in a series of consultations in relation to the proposed Autism Centre of Excellence in Middletown Armagh, has said that the meeting that was attended by a large number of parents and key stakeholder groups and agencies involved in the issue, was informative and raised many questions that the organisers had pledged to address in the final analysis of all the consultations.

Mr Boylan said:

"The centre will be jointly funded by the education boards North and South. It has been stated the ring fenced funding will be £3 million per year, shared between the two departments.

"It is envisaged that the centre which can cater for 20 children, aged between 4 and 19, at any one time will see 140 to 180 children and young adults pass through its doors annually for unique, professional treatment tailored to their specific needs.

"It is thought many more will be treated off site, in their homes and schools. The site will be having purpose built structures erected for sleeping quarters, research facilities, sensory treatment and the existing gym will be upgraded. It is believed it will be operational within 12 to18 months.

The Sinn Fein MLA said that he sensed some disappointment from parents who had learned that the Centre would not actually be delivering daily educational needs.

"The system at present is geared to 2 day and 5 week residential. This concerned some parents, who felt taking autistic children out of their secure environs would be distressing. It was stated that parents could stay with the children on the 2 day residential - but not the 5 weeks, though they could visit. There was also concern about how children would be selected to gain access to the facility, as many believed they were being left out of the loop with the present system.

"The discussions certainly highlighted that whilst the Middletown proposal is welcome and eagerly anticipated, there continues to be an urgent need for the provision of proper financial and support resources. An infrastructure to deal with Autism in a caring, professional and structured way is essential." ENDS

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