The Inverell Times

Federal Government calling for input from Australians living with autism

Photo by Shutterstock.
Photo by Shutterstock.

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In a landmark move to reshape support systems for Australians on the autism spectrum and their families, a National Autism Strategy is being developed by the Federal government and is expected to be implemented in the near future.

The Department of Social Services (DSS) has released a draft of the strategy and is currently seeking feedback and input from people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) across the country.

The draft was developed in conjunction with the National Autism Strategy oversight council and its working groups.

The development process involved community outreach with more than 2,000 people giving feedback as to what the National Autism Strategy could address, with the main goal of improving the outcomes of people with ASD.

The outcomes associated with people with ASD are much poorer than the rest of the Australian population, and despite 200,000 people diagnosed with the condition in this country, the actual number is higher as it can be difficult and expensive to receive an official diagnosis.

Supply issues for mental health practitioners are part of this issue, too, so enrolling in a Graduate Certificate of Psychology or other relevant tertiary qualification can be a great way to help address this issue of underdiagnosis directly.

It can also be worthwhile if you're interested in improving mental health outcomes for people with autism or other conditions.

Photo by Shutterstock.
Photo by Shutterstock.

What does the strategy look like?

According to new data from Aspect, Australia's largest service provider for people living with autism, an estimated 1 in 40 individuals are on the autism spectrum, which is higher than the previous estimate of 1 in 70.

The strategy stresses the importance of taking a "person-centred" approach that respects and acknowledges the independence and diversity of autistic people.

It also discusses cooperation between all levels of government when it comes to the plan's implementation, and the importance of autistic leaders to guide the plan and maintain open lines of communication to ensure that the lives of autistic people are improving, and all of their voices are heard.

With the stated goal of improving outcomes for people with ASD, the strategy looks at different aspects "across all stages of life".

The strategy has the following goals:

  • Inclusion of autistic people.
  • Acceptance of autistic people.
  • Fostering and celebrating autistic strengths.
  • Recognition of individual diversity and capacity.
  • Better quality of life and improved living standards.

The consultation about what to include in the plan covered issues from a range of different, specifically:

Rights, autonomy, and safety

  • This is all about ensuring equal opportunities.

Understanding autism

  • Educating Australians from a young age about autism.
  • Ensuring positive media representation.

Social inclusion

  • Improving community understanding and acceptance.
  • Tailored public and online spaces.

Education and Learning

  • Autism training for schools and teachers.

Employment and income support

  • Removing biases in hiring.

Diagnosis, services, and supports

  • Affordable and timely diagnoses.

Health and mental health

  • Autism-friendly healthcare.
  • Training for healthcare professionals.

Why is the strategy necessary?

As mentioned earlier, the outcomes for autistic Australians are far worse than the rest of the population, and there isn't currently a plan to address this.

There's a whopping 20-year gap between the life expectancy of a non-autistic Australian and an autistic Australian, and according to the DSS, they are also around seven times more likely to be unemployed and are more likely to be affected by homelessness.

The draft strategy also reveals that they are nine times more likely to die by suicide.

These differences highlight the absolute need for this strategy, and its implementation could assist autistic people with bridging these gaps and being better understood and seen by the world around them, especially in key industries where this support is lacking like education and healthcare.

The community-minded process of development of the strategy is an excellent way to create a sustainable policy that helps the people it intends to help.

By engaging with autistic community leaders and ensuring there is communication every step of the way during the plan's development, the risk of a disconnect between the plan and those it intends to help is minimised.

However, Australia is behind similar countries when it comes to this development, with the United Kingdom, France, and the United States all having implemented national autism strategies.

The final action plan and strategy will be released by the end of this year.

Currently, consultation is open and can be found on the DSS website, and those who will be affected by it are strongly urged to look over the current draft and answer the surveys to assist with the plan's further development.

This is a huge step for the autistic community and could make real change, especially since society is geared towards people who are able-bodied and neurotypical.