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MLA’s meet Education Officials to discuss Middletown Autism Centre

4 April, 2008

Sínn Feín MLA's Cathal Boylan (Newry Armagh), Michelle O'Neill (Mid Ulster) and Paul Butler (Lagan Valley) have met officials from the Department of Education to discuss the Centre of Excellence for Autism to be based in Middletown, County Armagh.

The MLA's were concerned that the public perception and expectations for the centre did not seem to match the realities of what the all Ireland facility had to offer.

Speaking after the meeting Cathal Boylan said:

"Many parents and carers of Autistic children were under the impression that the state of the art facility to open in Middletown was to be a specialist school, with daily classes and lessons like a typical school, but this is not the case.

"I know it may be a disappointment to many, but in fact this unique facility will be the base to transform the way those affected by Autism are treated in school and every day home life for the long term benefit of all."

The Centre will be focussing on four main services; Training, Research, Educational Assessment and Learning Support. It will employ approximately 70 staff to deliver various therapeutic educational needs to those individuals which pass through its doors. Those children and young people who attend the centre will be assessed and go back to their schools and homes with an individual action plan to suit their specific needs - but just as important, vital information will have been obtained which will be able to help others.

Ms O'Neill, who is the deputy Chair of the Assembly all-party working group on Autism, added:

"Research and information gathered and built up by staff will allow new techniques to be brought into schools and homes to hopefully improve educational programmes and alleviate many of the problems faced by teachers, parents and of course the children and young people themselves. This can only be recognised as a good thing for all involved.

"A major concern for many is the site of the centre. But we must remember, as a facility for the whole Island it is in an ideal location, it is to be the first Irish Centre of Excellence, and anyone who has visited the centre has been impressed with its peaceful and idyllic setting.

"A new and potentially ground breaking idea for the centre will be the use of Internet technology to allow educational and medical experts as well as parents to access 'live' feed of the work being carried out at the Middletown facility, to find out the latest updates on treatment without actually having to travel to the Centre of Excellence."

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Paul Butler said:

"The main focus of the centre will be Educational assessments of children with mainly behavioural problems which means they are not fulfilling their educational ability, children whose needs are not being properly met.

"The criteria for admission to the centre is still being debated and finalised, but the decision will be made by the various Education Boards based on referrals from parents, schools or other professional working with the children.

"I believe this is an exciting initiative for everyone concerned and interested in Autism. This Centre of Excellence has the potential to change the way Autism is treated in this country for the short and long term.

"I urge people to take a look at what is on offer, put aside the misconceptions that people originally thought was to be available and recognise that there is a real opportunity to transform how we treat and educate Autism sufferers now and in the future. This centre deserves and needs the support of everyone to ensure it is a success." ENDS

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