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Councillors join forces in bid to make ABC Borough autism friendly

Mealla Campbell and Julie Flaherty

Two of our local Councillors have teamed in efforts to make Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council an autism friendly district.

Lord Mayor Julie Flaherty and Armagh councillor Mealla Campbell brought a motion before the monthly meeting of Council on Monday night.

“We are all aware of the increased number of citizens across the borough living with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders,” councillor Campbell explained.

The SDLP representative added: “We want to ensure that those with ASD and their families can have full access to services within our Borough.

“We want the Borough to be a place where those with Autism and their families feel welcome and supported.

“That’s what our motion is about and we are delighted to have received cross party support for this worthy initiative.”

She added: “Council have agreed to establish a working group that will seek to make the Borough autism friendly.

“We want council facilities to be open and embracing and we want to reach out to other service providers in the borough to encourage them to be aware and understanding of the needs of those with Autism.

“We just want this place to be a place where everyone feels welcome, supported and embraced.”

Lord Mayor Julie Flattery added: “This is a very important initiative and is something we want to see progress as soon as possible.

“Children and young people have been central to my year as Mayor and anyone who knows me or has seen me at an event this year already knows I am the biggest child of the lot.

“This is an issue which is very close to my heart and indeed to councillor Campbell.”

The Ulster Unionist councillor added: “There is nothing more frustrating for parents of children with a diagnosis of autism than the lack of understanding or the lack of knowledge.

“Health and Education have their own roles in providing support, statementing and education but as a society we all need to play our part. That’s where council can and should step in.

“We have initiatives that train businesses on customer care, we invest heavily in regeneration and development and we are committed to ensuing all our play areas are welcoming and disabled friendly.

“However, all these initiatives and physical improvements can be meaningless if as a mum or dad you don’t feel people understand or welcome your son or daughter when they have autism. That’s what tonight’s about, it’s about us leading the way.

“In Newcastle, Co. Down, they have already piloted a similar initiative as have places like Liverpool, Glasgow and Clonakilty in Co. Cork. We can learn from their experiences and make this place somewhere where everyone looks to as a model of best practice.”

Councillor Campbell concluded: “Politics can be frustrating and I don’t just mean our own council chamber.

“This is an initiative that is important to everyone as it unites us all whatever our backgrounds.

“We’ve already engaged with support groups locally as well as Autism NI, Autism Initiatives and have the support of the Middletown Centre for Autism for this initiative.

“This is an exciting development for this area and we are delighted to have received the support of council tonight.”

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