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Health Minister | ‘Key improvements must be priority’ as NI Autism Interim Strategy published

Key improvements in the provision of services and support for those with autism and their carers must be a priority for society here, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.

The Minister was speaking following the publication of a cross departmental interim autism strategy for action throughout 2021 and 2022.

“We as a society, have made significant strides in developing improved support and developing better understanding of the needs of autistic people, their families and carers but much still needs to be done,” the Minister said.

“This Interim Strategy seeks to set future direction towards building communities where autistic people, their families and carers can feel safe, included, valued and understood.

“The vision for this strategy is ‘to respect, to listen, to involve’ and this can only be achieved through partnership working and involving people with lived experience of autism, so that we, as a society, can be better informed and have a greater understanding of their needs."

The Minister said that whilst the interim strategy had gained much from ongoing stakeholder engagement this had been constrained by the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He gave a commitment however: “To build on the work thus far with the development of a fully co-produced autism strategy later this year.

“It is my hope that this will commence a period of renewed partnership working across our communities and collaboration across government to shape and influence actions that can truly make a difference and improve quality of life for all.”

The interim strategy will be based around three strategic outcomes:

  • A healthy life with access to services on an equal and timely basis to provide early intervention and support to best meet the needs for individuals and families;

  • A life with opportunities to live as an active citizen to support autistic people and their families through continued support in education and employment and as they transition through life stages; and

  • An independent life with greater understanding and choices which provides opportunity for autistic people to live safe and independent lives within our communities and where they are met with respect and understanding.

Priorities for the interim strategy have been informed through extensive stakeholder engagement and a consultative process and aim to demonstrate a societal commitment to support and understand the needs of people with autism and be used to inform planning of service provision across the wider public sector and partnerships beyond.

• The Autism – Interim Strategy 2021-22 is available to access on the Department of Health website at:


• The Autism Act (NI) 2011 places a legislative responsibility on the Department of Health to prepare a cross-departmental autism strategy every seven years.

• The previous autism strategy, 2013-2020, came to an end in December 2020 and whilst preparations had been underway to develop a fully co-produced autism strategy in 2021, these plans were significantly constrained as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

• Extensive stakeholder engagement throughout 2019 and early 2020, and responses received through the issue of a public questionnaire, have informed the key priorities which have enabled the Department to develop an interim autism strategy for the years 2021 and 2022, with work on a fully co-produced autism strategy commencing later in 2021.

• Whilst the interim autism strategy has not been launched as a public consultation, a targeted consultative process has been undertaken across the region. A summary of responses is published on the Departmental website.