Autism services in Northern Ireland are to get an extra £2m a year, Health Minister Simon Hamilton has announced.
The money will be used to create 35 new posts across Northern Ireland in an effort to speed diagnosis and cut waiting lists.
Since 2010, the number of referrals for autism assessments has nearly doubled in five years from 1,500 to 2,800.
“Despite the hard work of many dedicated professionals, we are struggling to match pace with demand,” said Mr Hamilton.
“Many children and young people are waiting more than 13 weeks for an assessment. This is not acceptable and I am determined to get these waiting lists down.”
Mr Hamilton said the £2m investment “will fund much-needed new capacity to ensure there is quicker access to diagnostic services and that, crucially, there is more support for young people and their families”.
He added: “This new money will fund expanded teams in each trust to improve assessment times, including clinical staff specifically trained in assessing autism. In addition, these resources will be used to expand autism specific support services, and improve access to wider services such as: Speech and Language Therapy, Community Paediatrics and Occupational Therapy.
“In tandem, I will continue to work with the board and the trusts to improve our processes and remodel our services to further drive down waiting lists and improve access to high-quality services.”
The £2m will be invested in autism diagnostic and post-diagnostic services from April 2016.