Many Northland communities are relatively geographically isolated from urban centres. Because of this, services can be limited and travel, housing and the general cost of living are expensive for many. In 2015 there were clear indications from families that the Children’s Autism Foundation (CAF) services were needed in Northland. This feedback came from families who had travelled many hours to attend Auckland workshops.
In May 2016, CAF held three days of introductory workshops in Northland with leading paediatrician Dr Paul Taylor. The workshops were titled ‘A Guide to Autism’. These workshops attracted over 270 people. This included over 150 families and 34% of participants were Maori.
The Children’s Autism Foundation is very thankful for the New Zealand Lotteries Community Sector Research Fund which enabled CAF to evaluate the feedback from the workshops and comprehensively research the need for autism related services in Northland.
The Children’s Autism Foundation evaluated existing services and how beneficial further support services would be for the participants. This was achieved through surveys, given to participants at the workshops or via an online survey. These surveys requested feedback on how each participant enjoyed the introductory service and evaluated potential interest in other autism support programmes.
Feedback from families, community organisations and government organisations are crucial when planning further services for Northland. The results offer perspectives on the difficulties in accessing services for both families of children with autism and their communities. By most measures many of those surveyed were coping but stresses were showing within families. Many people were unaware of the importance of diagnosis and the possibility of health and education services that can be accessed after achieving the diagnosis. The workshops and associated consultations helped the community with an understanding of autism and emphasised the benefits for a child of being formally diagnosed.
The research showed that earlier diagnosis and further corresponding support services in the community would be beneficial for the family who has a child with autism. These services should cater for families/whanau and also provide professional training for those working with young people with autism. Workshop topics should be based on empowering the community and further understanding about the complexities of the Autism Spectrum.