I propose to take Questions Nos. 546, 547, 549 to 556, inclusive, 558 to 561, inclusive, 563, 564, 567 to 569, inclusive, and 571 to 576, inclusive, together.
The Deputy has tabled a number of questions in relation to individual recommendations in the report of the task force on autism. At the outset, I want to say that these recommendations provide an invaluable basis for the development of educational services and supports for persons with autism.
However, in responding to the recommendations, my Department has had to give priority to a number of key areas before detailed individual recommendations can be addressed. These key areas involve the implementation of the core legislative and structural measures required to underpin service development and delivery. This approach is critical to the implementation of many of the individual recommendations of the task force including those relating to assessment, parental involvement, service delivery, information dissemination, promotion of inclusion and co-ordination between health and education authorities.
With regard to legislation, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 has now been enacted while, on the structural front, the National Council for Special Education has been established on a statutory basis. While these developments represent significant progress, a considerable amount of additional input is required before these measures can begin to have a positive impact on services for children with special educational needs, including those with autism.
Over the course of the coming months, I expect that significant progress will be made in this regard. Specifically, consideration will be given to the detailed measures required to enable the Act to be commenced. In addition, it is intended that the NCSE will assume operational status in the new year and a range of measures are in hand to ensure that this objective is realised.
These measures include comprehensive supported training for the council's special educational needs organisers and the drawing up of detailed work protocols in relation to the various areas of work for which the council will assume responsibility.
This work will be carefully planned and executed over the coming months. It will address many of the recommendations of the task force. Other recommendations will be addressed over time in consultation with the council and other interested parties.