Social Affairs Reporter, Sydney
Children with autism-spectrum disorders have flooded the trial of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in South Australia and make up almost half of all participants, contributing to a blowout in the numbers which would be replicated across the country when the full scheme launches.
The Australian has previously revealed that the trial has doubled in size after bilateral agreements were negotiated between the state and the commonwealth which predicted only 5085 children aged up to 14 would be eligible.
Instead, the figure is closer to 10,000 and 46 per cent of them have autism, a scenario for which there were no preparations, according to Disability SA executive director David Caudrey.
“That is a much bigger proportion than we were used to dealing with,” Mr Caudrey told The Australian. “A lot of children who have autism have been coming out of the woodwork, these are children who were not known to the state system at all who have come to sign on to the NDIS.
“It’s certainly not what was anticipated.”
Mr Caudrey said he believed other trial sites around the country were experiencing similar rates although it was more obvious in South Australia because the trial there deals specifically with children.
Depending on the trial site, those with autism feature between 24 and 33 per cent of the time, making it the second-highest impairment category, but experts are worried slippery diagnoses and amorphous definitions of need will mean that rate skyrockets.
Intellectual Disability Association of SA chairman David Holst said parents were understandably flocking to a system for support when previously they had received none, but added that this posed risks.
“Everyone is very excited there is finally a program but the cost risk to the program is substantial and the client numbers are very fluid,” he said. “If the number of participants rises beyond 460,000 there is a very real risk either the budget blows out or the existing pool of money is rationed for everyone else.”
The children with autism and other non-global developmental delays typically qualify for early intervention packages which, unlike other NDIS support packages, are capped and come in three levels of support between $6000 and $16,000 a year.
The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data, from 2012, shows 115,400 Australians have autism, up from 64,400 in 2009, the year on which the Productivity Commission based its assumptions.
Mr Holst said the NDIS early intervention packages needed to be up to $50,000 a year in order to produce the outcome for which they are designed: to help clients earlier and reduce costs to the system later.
“Already we are seeing parents trying very hard to get their children with slight learning difficulties into the scheme and they are succeeding,” Mr Holst said. In its most recent progress report, which was released at the start of the month, the NDIS agency alluded to the problems it is facing.
“We have listened to feedback identifying issues around early intervention and autism,” the report says.
“We have responded by engaging expert researchers and practitioners from universities around Australia to review and update the evidence on best practice.’’
The agency was unable to provide a comment last night.
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