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Call for National Autism Strategy offers hope for a ‘better future’

A chalk drawing of a puzzle piece inside a lightbulb with 'autism' spelled out underneath in Scrabble tiles.

A guest article by Chris.

My initial reaction to learning of the Senate Select Committee on Autism’s recommendation that the Australian Government introduce a National Autism Strategy was not positive. There has certainly been a history of governments in this country making rules and regulations for minority groups that end up hurting, rather than helping, some within those groups.

However, reading that (if the recommendations of the Committee are adopted) the Australian Government will create the strategy in conjunction with the nation’s autistic community gave me hope that perhaps people with autism will finally be heard and our needs, as we stated them during the Committee’s inquiry, will be considered.

It was good to read the executive summary of the Committee’s report, Services, support and life outcomes for autistic Australians, which stated that during its inquiry the Committee had heard that many National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) staff and service providers ‘seem to lack even the most basic understanding of autism and the kinds of supports autistic people need’. The Committee went further to say this was ‘particularly troubling’ given the high number of autistic participants in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

“However, resolving problems with the NDIS for autistic participants will require a more focused consideration of the issues than was achievable within the broad terms of reference for this inquiry,” said the report.

“Accordingly, the Committee recommends an inquiry be undertaken by the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme to examine how the NDIS supports autistic participants.”

This was a welcome surprise, and I would wholly embrace such an inquiry as I’ve been fighting the NDIA for what I consider to be my basic human rights for the past 16 months.

So, if the Australian Government puts in place a National Autism Strategy to improve autistic lives, what will it look like, and how will it help us?

The extensive report, which was delivered following a two-year inquiry, suggests the Strategy should look at whole-of-life needs for autistic Australians. I’m hoping that means it will look at the things we need over our lifetimes.

I’ve been reading this report and it’s divided up into sections, as one would expect. The first section past the Executive Summary covers the recommended actions the Australian Government needs to take to better the lives of autistic Australians – there are 81 in total. After two years, I would have hoped for more calls to action from the inquiry, but the fact they’ve taken the betterment of our lives seriously is a step in the right direction.

I was pleasantly surprised by the bi-partisan support for, and involvement in, the inquiry.  Maybe it’s a tug of war for our votes, who knows? I just hope that whichever party is elected this weekend honours these recommendations and starts to make some real, tangible improvements for us.

Chapter 4 of the report is titled ‘The cost of failing to provide adequate services and support’, and it is what I believe the politicians are likely to really pay attention to – the cost of doing nothing.

Synergies Economic Consulting’s Economic Costs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Australia report (the Synergies report), updated in 2011, estimated the annual economic cost of autism in Australia was in the region of $8.1 billion to $11.2 billion (2010 dollars). So, if that is the cost of doing what the Committee’s inquiry showed to be not looking after the autistic community, then surely – if nothing else does – that should help to motivate Canberra to better support our needs.

I do have one gripe about the Committee’s report – and that is that it is a list of recommendations that the next Australian Government can simply ignore. They are not new laws, they’re just a list of suggestions, and if the next Prime Minister, whomever that might end up being, decides to ignore them, there isn’t anything we can do about it.

Well, there is one thing we can do – we can band together and inundate every Member of Parliament, every senator, and the Prime Minister themselves, with emails and complaints about failing to uphold the recommendations. The figures vary, depending on the source, but it is estimated that approximately one in every 70 Australians is autistic. That’s a lot of people, and when you take our friends, family and support networks into account, that’s a huge group of people who can cooperate with each other (with or without assistance) to fill the email boxes of those in power until they have to listen to us.

The more I read the Committee’s report, the more hope I feel for a better future for me and other autistic people.

Hi, I’m Chris. I’m an autistic person. Originally from California, I ran away to Australia as soon as I could. Raised in the country, life wasn’t easy with an invisible neurological difference, especially when that difference wasn’t widely known about. On top of that, I didn’t even get a diagnosis until my adult years. Looking forward, I want to leave behind some small piece of myself that maybe, if I’m lucky, might make a positive impact.




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