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World Autism Awareness Day Breakfast

Hon Tariana Turia

Minister for Disability Issues

Thursday 10 April 2014

World Autism Awareness Day Breakfast

Grand Hall, Parliament Buildings, Te Whanganui a Tara

Ka nui te mihi rawa atu ki a koutou kua tae mai nei ki te tautoko i te kaupapa o te hunga hauā. Tēnā koutou.

I am really pleased to be here at this breakfast this year to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day.

And I want to mihi to all our parliamentary colleagues. It is so wonderful to see that you have all come today because this is such a significant issue and one that we should be really aware of to understand and to be sure that we progress the issues on behalf of people living with autism.

I particularly want to acknowledge the Chief Executive, Dane Dougan, and Chairperson, Glenys Fry for your contribution to Autism New Zealand and for your kind invitation to be part of this event today.

Glenys has been an amazing advocate for this organisation and I want to thank you Glenys for all the effort that you have put in, for ensuring that those of us who are part of Government understand and know the things we are meant to be doing so I do want to thank you for that.

Breakfast, as they say, is the most important meal of the day – a message expressed in the immortal words of A. A Milne.

When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.

I hope today our breakfast has that same sense of sustenance and excitement as we share together the evolving world of autism.

World Autism Awareness Day reminds us all that increasing numbers of people in Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world are being diagnosed with autism.

And I want to particularly mention the impact on the justice system for not being diagnosed – for these issues not to be taken note of prior to appearance in court.

And I am sad to hear this morning from Judge John Walker about the report coming out from England ‘Nobody made the connection: the prevalence of neuro-disability in young people who offend,’ and I’m sure that will be replicated here in New Zealand.

Each new diagnosis provides us with the opportunity to recognise that every single person has the right to realise their potential.

And from the outset I want to acknowledge the very practical work being undertaken by Autism New Zealand to promote and advocate for the rights of New Zealanders with autism, and for their full participation in society.

So what exciting thing is going to happen today? There’s a few things that I want to highlight that I believe can enhance the lived experience of New Zealanders with autism.

Last week we announced some good news in the additional investment of $43 million over four years to ensure that people with autism now have the same access across the country.

Up until now, some people with autism received support such as supported living, respite and caring support – and some didn’t.

I’m really thrilled that we’re no longer being selective in terms of realising potential – recognising that indeed everyone should be enabled to live a good life.

And of course ‘realising potential’ is a lifelong goal.

We’ve been putting considerable focus into achieving a fully inclusive education system right from the early year of life. There are some innovative programmes created from the Ministries of Education and Health to support children with autism in their learning at school.

The first initiative is simply called tips for autism - it is a workshop for families, educators and specialists supporting students with Autism Spectrum disorder.

The second is investment in Autism Spectrum Disorder Plus which is a programme for families of young, newly diagnosed children.

Another idea is the pilot programme, Tilting the seesaw.

Whoever thought of the seesaw concept is a genius. If you think about it, the idea of a seesaw is that whenever one goes down, there is always someone at the other end to lift you up again.

Tilting the seesaw is the prescription for an inclusive New Zealand – it is about supporting and valuing autistic people so that they can enjoy the same rights of citizenship as all other New Zealanders.

In practical effect, Tilting the Seesaw is also about supporting teachers and teacher aides through practical strategies, to involve autistic children more actively in classroom activities.

In keeping with the theme of supporting autistic people to enjoy a greater sense of independence, I want to also share three of the shared result areas which Ministers agreed to earlier this week in the new Disability Action Plan:

· Transforming the disability support system

· Increasing education and employment opportunities

· And ensuring personal safety

In reference to this last area, I am aware of course about the recent concerns about the safety of some autistic people in government funded care facilities.

I want to say, I have no tolerance for abuse or neglect of any scale.

I am absolutely determined that we must do all we can to support autistic people to fully participate, learn and achieve in whatever setting they find themselves.

And in that light I want to just share my utter enthusiasm for the Enabling Good Lives approach.

For too many generations, the capacities of people living with disabilities have been over-looked; their abilities under-estimated.

Enabling Good Lives seeks to ensure that disabled persons have greater choice and control over their lives, and are able to access the supports they need to live a great life, as and when they require.

It is like the Seesaw scenario. Promoting and advocating for positive attitudes around the rights and inclusion of people with autism is actually great for our community.

Hope becomes the motivation that enables our nation to grow, to thrive and to be a stronger, more diverse land because of it.

And so I come back to Piglet’s question – what exciting thing is going to happen today?

As prevalence of autism continues to rise, we must come together, to turn awareness into action which addresses the needs of those with autism.

By the turnout on this breakfast alone and by looking at the talents and enthusiasm of those around this room, I believe we have every reason for hope. You can all be a candle for hope, and I ask you all to light that candle in the interests of people with autism.

I hope you have space during your time together this morning in this wonderful moment of learning and understanding more about autism to share some of your reasons for being here, and even more so, to find ways in which you connect with others next to you.

For that is the pathway into our future – coming together to listen and learn from one another and to connect in a way which appreciates the value of a truly inclusive society.


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