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Speech: Turia - World Autism Awareness Day

Hon Tariana Turia
Minister for Disability Issues

Wednesday 10 April 2013 Speech

World Autism Awareness Day Breakfast, Parliament

E nga matawaka kua tae mai i tenei ata, nau mai whakatau mai ki Te Whare Paremata.

My ministerial and parliamentary colleagues - distinguished guests - disability sector representatives, Glenys Fry, the President of Autism New Zealand - the Board of Autism New Zealand - friends, whanau and people living with autism - nga mihi nui ki a koutou katoa.

This is a wonderful morning to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day.

It is so pleasing to see so many of you here, bright and early, even despite the inevitable challenge of daylight saving!

Every single one of you has made an effort to be here, to contribute to the global campaign of bringing recognition to autism, and I thank you for that.

The primary motivation for the United Nations designating a World Day is to raise public awareness. This global goal is somewhat more complex due to the invisible nature of autism and aspergers syndrome children and adults who look like everyone else and it can be that much harder to create awareness and understanding.
In fact, most people in New Zealand are unaware that these conditions affect the lives of over 40,000 people and their families throughout the country.
Awareness of autism and aspergers syndrome, how it affects those who live with these conditions and their families, is vital in ensuring access to the right support and most importantly of all, to ensure that people living with these conditions are able to participate in the community and live an ordinary life.
My absolute priority as Minister for Disability Issues is to do what I can to create an enabling society, where disabled people know they are highly valued and can fully participate. I believe passionately, that disabled people and their families want to be free to choose how they live their lives, to live an everyday life in everyday places.
We call this – the Enabling Good Lives approach - which is basically code to say, we believe that every person should be given permission to fly, to spread their wings, to climb every mountain, and to feel the thrill of being able to reach their goals.
I don’t need to tell you that Autism Spectrum Disorder is a life-long developmental disability affecting social and communication skills. Every person along the spectrum will have their own unique set of circumstances – but what they all share is a difficulty in making sense of their world.
It does not make sense, then, to assume that everyone will have the same needs - that one set of services will be the one stop shop for all.
So on this World Autism Awareness Day I hope we can begin to think about how we all understand the range of disabilities and associated needs that may impact on the lives of people with autism.
There is a brilliant initiative on the Autism New Zealand website, called the Way to Play programme. The programme brings together some simple, easy to use strategies, for families to play joyously together with children.
I happen to think that maybe all of us could benefit with time to play – to allow ourselves to think differently, to be creative about how we interact with one another.
Of course, bureaucrats or public servants will always have a particular passion with whether the policy framework is enabling the right supports to be available, consistently across the country, and to those with identified needs for funding support.
But the needs of people on the autism spectrum should never be seen as the sole preserve of the state nor should it be seen as the sole preserve of disability providers or support services, no matter how well intentioned.
I often hear, within the disability community, that the most significant limitation in their lives is the attitude of those around them that can be disabling.
I am a firm believer that we can all do something about changing the entrenched societal attitudes or discrimination which must be challenged.

There are ways that we can definitely all make a difference - whether it be through education or the media – or by telling the stories of those who live with autism and aspergers and their families. Stories are very powerful especially those told by families.

In this light, I want to especially acknowledge Wendy Duff, a former board member and a wonderful mother.

Wendy, you have role modelled what it takes to care for a child with autism. You have fought long and hard to create awareness for those living with autism and their families. Your contribution has been huge – you have served on the Autism Board as President – you have also lobbied to change the maximum age of respite care in New Zealand from 17 to 21 – and you have successfully set up a specialist classroom for autistic children at Riverhills School in Auckland.

Your work has been rightfully recognised in the 2013 New Year honours list as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to people with autism. You have shown immense strength and courage and have made many sacrifices during difficult times but you have never given up and I can say that about all of you.

That spirit of the ever-ready battery – the Energizer - is clearly a pre-requisite for anything associated with Autism New Zealand.

And I turn to also thank Alison Molloy who has been Chief Executive for four years, for your sterling contribution and your energy to this important kaupapa.

You have both provided us with the example and the inspiration to also become champions of the Energiser role. I think it’s a role you all carry out every day.

We must be energetic in our understanding of what it will take to live a great life.

For those of us in Government, we must actively listen to the families – and to respond when you tell us how services and support can be improved. Whether that be early intervention services, better diagnostic services or parent education programmes for families for pre-schoolers – we need to hear your call, and think about what we can each do.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the people with autism, your whanau and the champions in this room, for your commitment and support.

The great holy man, the Dalai Lama once said “Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something - and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.”

On this World Autism Awareness Day, let us all listen just as closely to the sounds of silence as we do to all the other contributions that mark every day. Let us listen, learn, love and live together in a way that will truly achieve an inclusive society in Aotearoa. Tena tatou katoa.

________________________________________


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