A plea for some real political action for children with disabilities

So many issues haven’t made it on to the election radar. Indigenous health, rural and remote health, preventative health…and the list goes on.

While there has been some talk of improving services for children with a disability, Bob Buckley, Convenor of Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia, would like to see far more action.

He writes:

“Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott raised services for children with a disability in the election campaign but their promises must be practical to win my vote.

My focus is on children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a group whose numbers have more than doubled every 5 years over 20 years. If ASD numbers continue doubling, in 5 years ASD will outnumber intellectual disability and in 10 years every class will include a student with ASD.

ASD are mostly severe disorders. A survey in 2003 found 87% of people with ASD have severe disability. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in its report on The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003 ranked autism 2nd (following asthma) for boys aged 0-14 years, 8th for girls and 15th for men (the male to female ratio for autism diagnosis is 4:1).

The significance of ASD is not reflected in planning, spending or staff training in the health sector.

Research shows:

* children with disabilities benefit from treatment and rehabilitation (or early intervention); and
* many students with a disability need clinical support in school.

Children with ASD miss out on many essential services. The Health Department says a child with ASD need 20+ hours per week of intense autism-specific early intervention over 2+ years (see http://tinyurl.com/3ygtzcr).

Currently, Government’s Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) model funds 5% of the early intervention that children need. Better service models can meet more needs with the same resources.

Government should get clinicians to supervise support workers to deliver therapy for a child with ASD. Supervised support workers can provide most of a child’s early intervention at no extra cost.

Without this approach, Labor cannot deliver its election promise of $12,000 of early intervention for many more children with a disability. Nor could the Liberals use $20K per student to improve clinical services in schools.

Australian Governments pride themselves in having signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which provides children’s right to treatment, rehabilitation and education), and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but they refuse to legislate rights for children. Australian governments protect their power to minimise services for children with disabilities.

Australia’s health and education systems deny children the treatment, rehabilitation and education that they need for a fair go in life. Children who get a cochlea implant do not get the required follow up. Schools exclude students with behavioural pathologies, thereby denying them effective education and equitable prospects for employment and/or independent living. This is a national disgrace.

Parties need to commit to:

* ensuring children with a disability have Rights under Australian law to treatment, rehabilitation and education;
* properly locate treatment and rehabilitation for people’s disabilities in Health;
* train the clinician workforce needed to deliver services for children with a disability;
* create a practical treatment and rehabilitation model for children with a disability; and
* improve disability services in schools, including clinical services for students with behavioural pathologies.”

• This is an edited version of a longer article which can be downloaded at http://a4.org.au/a4/sites/au.a4/files/Opinion20100731.pdf or http://a4.org.au/a4/node/263

from http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2010/08/06/a-plea-for-some-real-polit...