By bobb | Thu, 30/9/2004 - 00:00

By Danielle Cronin
Health Reporter, Canberra Times

A "silent plea" went out yesterday for political parties to improve the lot of people with autism, as well as that of their families and carers.

More than 600 chairs, bearing the photographs of people with autism and related syndromes, were set up outside Parliament House in the "first national silent plea" for members of autism families.

The wife of former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer and mother of Harrison, said the event would fire up advocacy groups like never before.

The system had failed people with the disorders and their families for more than a decade and the situation had got worse since Harrison was diagnosed eight years ago.

"In a federal election campaign where all sides of politics are acknowledging health, Medicare and pressure on families as key concerns of the community, it is tragic that the acute needs of our autism families continue to be

completely ignored," she said.

Liberal, Labor, Democrats and Greens candidates for the federal and ACT elections addressed the crowd.

The system had serious failings given that advocacy groups were still talking about concerns raised a decade ago, former Molonglo MLA and Greens ACT Senate candidate Kerrir Tucker said.

The convenor of lobby group A4, Bob Buckley, said statistics showed more than 30,300 Australians had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2003.

Autism was considered a rare condition just five years ago but the prevalence in the population had more than doubled without a matching level of support.

"People with autism and their carers want politicians and the public to be more aware of their situation," he said. "Autism means severe and pervasive impairment. People with autism struggle to fit into our world. Their families and carers make huge efforts to support them and the personal sacrifice and its cost are enormous."