Friday, April 10, 2009

Sole autism helper made redundant


The entire New Zealand regional staff of autism information officers has been made redundant, including Nelson-based Felicity Jordan, who offers advice to 300 families from Kaikoura to Haast.

Ms Jordan was told on Thursday along with 11 other officers from around the country that the organisation she works for was undergoing restructuring.

She was told she would have to reapply for a new position and, if successful, her hours would be cut from 20 hours a week to five hours.

"I am absolutely shocked," said Ms Jordan. "This will create a huge gap. Five hours is not enough to cater to the community."

Ms Jordan works for a government-funded organisation called Altogether Autism, a national information and advisory service for people with autism and their families.

Altogether Autism is run by Parent to Parent New Zealand and the Life Unlimited trust, which last year signed a memorandum of understanding to work collaboratively because resources were so scarce.

Parent to Parent New Zealand chief executive Anne Wilkinson said they had been concerned for some time about "a strategic issue of financial sustainability".

"We see this model as sustainable for our organisation. I would hope the level of service would not change under the restructuring."

Altogether Autism is a not-for-profit organisation but received funding from the Ministry of Health which had been "totally involved with the restructure every step of the way".

Ms Jordan said the restructure was "completely out of tune with the needs of the community".

Nelson woman Sharon Bryce, who has a child with autism, said relationships were vital for helping those suffering from the disorder.

"Any time resources are pulled out it's never a good look, it's never helpful, how can it be?" she said. "Families are left to cast around to make new connections and to find others that they feel comfortable with. It's all about relationships."

Ms Jordan was at Nayland College on Thursday to oversee a mufti day to raise awareness of autism.

Students and support staff drew smiley faces around the school library to show their support for those students at the school who were affected.

According to Autism New Zealand, one person in 100 has autism or Asperger's syndrome, which means about 40,000 New Zealanders are affected.

Nayland College support co-ordinator Kerry Budge said that without Ms Jordan the school "would be lost".

Nayland College has two dozen students with autism, and Ms Budge said Altogether Autism had been instrumental in helping the school set up a model to help cater to those students.


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