The Autism Advisory Group, established as a voice for people with autism participating in the National Disability Insurance Scheme, announced its four key issues of focus for the next 12 months.
The Autism Advisory Group (AAG) was established by the Federal Government to advise the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) on issues faced by people with autism in relation to accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
‘The establishment of the advisory group is consistent with the Government’s commitment to a fact-based collaborative approach to issues related to autism, and the NDIS and the NDIA’s unequivocal commitment to delivering quality outcomes for all people with autism, both children and adults,’ Federal Social Services Minister Dan Tehan said earlier this year.
The AAG includes the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC), Amaze, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Australia and New Zealand (ASAN AUNZ), the Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders (AABASD) and the Australian Autism Alliance (AAA).
The AAG has now chosen the four priorities on which it will focus over the next 12 months:
- Exploring the most appropriate approach for assessing NDIS eligibility and improving outcomes for people with autism
- Improving the NDIS participant experience for people with autism
- Enhancing the skills of NDIA staff, local area coordinators and early childhood early intervention staff
- Providing greater mainstream and community inclusion for people with autism
Autism advocates who are part of the AAG are hopeful about the outcomes of the work between the advisory group and the NDIA.
‘We are encouraged by the NDIA’s collaborative approach in working with autistic people and the autism sector,’ Chief Executive Officer of Amaze Braedan Hogan said.
‘Only by working together can we ensure we maximise the investment the NDIA is making in autistic people.’
However, many who have had past experience interacting with the NDIS as patients or autism advocates are experiencing hope tempered with caution on receipt of this news.
‘As a father of a child with autism and a GP who sees many autistic patients, I welcome the establishment of this specialist advisory group and the conciliatory messages coming from the NDIA about improving the lives of people on the autism spectrum,’ Dr James Best, a GP and autism advocate, told newsGP.
‘However, I hope the group’s main priority will be ensuring effective service delivery, rather than focusing on eligibility assessment, which many families fear is simply about creating new hoops to jump through in order to join the scheme.’
The roots of such caution can be found in the history of the NDIS rollout, which was not without its problems, especially in relation to the support it provides for people with autism.
Part of the issue has its origins in the 2011 Productivity Commission report on disability care and support, which was used as the basis of the NDIS and significantly underestimated the number of people with autism who would require coverage by the scheme. As a result, the NDIS found itself overwhelmed by the number of applicants applying for support with autism.
A report was published on the NDIS website in May proposing changes to the way people with autism were to be categorised under the scheme, which would have resulted in significant cuts to the number of people eligible for NDIS support.
‘I believe it is a matter of cost cutting,’ Chief Executive Officer of the AAA Nicole Rogerson told newsGP in May.
‘The NDIA were not prepared for the number of participants with autism, but the numbers were always there – they just didn’t prepare and plan accordingly.’
The NDIA quickly removed the report, claiming its publishing was a mistake, but there was strong backlash from autism advocates over its content. It was not long after this incident that the Minister Tehan announced the formation of the AAG.
The next step for the AAG is the development of a work plan and a stakeholder engagement program. Katharine Annear, Operations Manager of ASAN AUNZ, believes the positive start to the AAG’s work bodes well for the future.
‘There was a great deal of knowledge exchanged and goodwill brought to the meeting [to decide the AAG priorities], enlightening all regarding the true needs of autistic people,’ she said.