A response to the Senate Select Committee Report on Autism
By Nicole Rogerson, CEO Autism Awareness Australia
Whilst autism is more recognised and understood in our community, the supports and services needed to help autistic individuals are limited and patchy at best. 1 in 75 Australians are on the autism spectrum, so whilst it is not uncommon, it remains an enormous challenge for many individuals and families.
The issues are widespread but common areas of concern are the delays in getting a child a diagnosis, access to good quality Early Intervention and then appropriate support and inclusion within school settings. Basically, we are doing it badly! We know the autism community is large but the ‘systems’ which should support autistic people traverse State and Federal Governments, along with multiple Ministries such as health, education, disability and and more recent years, the NDIS. How is it possible that a condition that affects so many people, can be so mismanaged by Australian Governments for so long?
What was it going to take? Well, it took an autism mum to be elected to the Federal Parliament. Senator Hollie Hughes has a 10yr old son on the spectrum and has experienced first-hand the trials and issues many individuals with autism and their families face…..and she was determined to do something about it.
Hollie was joined by her Senate colleagues in a bi-partisan effort to develop the Senate Select Committee on autism, which for 2 years travelled across Australia hearing testimony from autistic individuals, parents, siblings, clinicians and experts. The committee heard first-hand personal accounts as well as receiving submissions from hundreds of organisations, community groups and professional bodies. Even though so many people from so many states and backgrounds were able to contribute to these hearings, many common themes and issues emerged.
For those of us who have lived and worked in the autism community for many years, none of this information was surprising but bringing it all together in these hearings and the subsequent report confirmed what we all know – things have to change!
Recently, the Committee finalised and released the report which was tabled in Parliament. The report is comprehensive and makes 81 recommendations that need to be implemented.
So what is next? Well, first there is the small issue of having an election and choosing our next Government. I’m happy to say, both parties have indicated support for the report whose main recommendation is to develop a National Autism Strategy. Something desperately needed for our community.
A taskforce would be put together whose sole purpose is to implement the National Autism Strategy which will involve negotiating and working with all levels of Government, in all States to implement the types of systemic changes the autism community needs. It won’t be easy. The Taskforce has a massive and complex task on their hands to bring multiple systems, states and stakeholders together.
So why is this report such a big deal if we still have so much to do? Because this is the first time the weight of the federal parliament has been brought to bear on an issue so long ignored and considered ‘too hard’. We have the first glimmer of hope that things might change and that we will see improved outcomes for the hundreds of thousands of Australians on the autism spectrum.
We have much to thank Senator Hughes for, but it was the broader autism community that stepped up to help the committee understand the issues and what changes we need to make. We have no choice but to work together to ensure these 81 recommendations come to fruition. Our children need it, our families need it. It’s time for autism to get the attention it deserves.