Minister: gap, not just autism, for a whole range of disabilities?

The Hon. Ms Jenny Macklin MP
Minister for Disability Reform

Dear The Hon. Ms Macklin MP

I saw your short video on the episode of A Current Affair on 19/3/2012. Your message started “We do recognise that there is a real gap for not just children with autism but children with a whole range of disabilities … ”.

I really wish you understood (and/or recognised) that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience a different, usually substantially bigger, gap than “children with a whole range of disabilities”. Please try to appreciate that children with ASD have different needs from children with other disabilities. So providing the same services and supports for them as are provided for children with other disabilities does not provide the same benefit.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report at http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4428.0 shows especially poor outcomes for people with ASD in the areas of:

  • education
  • labour force participation
  • disability
  • assistance, services and support

Labour force participation is a key "outcome" indicator for vulnerable or disadvantaged groups. The ABS reports labour force participation for Australia's indigenous population is 56% (see http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/6287.0~2010~Chapter~Participation). Many regard this outcome as a national disgrace.

The labour force participation rate for people with a disability is 54%: worse than a national disgrace. And Australia's ignominious poverty rate for PwD is said to be the worst for the OECD (see http://a4.org.au/a4/node/426 and http://www.pwc.com.au/industry/government/publications/disability-in-aus...).

The ABS reports that the labour force participation outcome for people with autism is far worse again: a mere 34%. That is an enormous gap to close. The outcome is especially disappointing when people with autism are mostly keen to work, intellectually and physical able, yet employers still do not employ them.

If you are serious about achieving equal outcomes (or even about getting improved outcomes) for people with ASD, you will recognise that people with ASD need services that are ASD-specific … as well as appropriate mainstream and generic disability services. Even to reduce the gap between ASD and disability outcomes generally, Government needs to deliver services and supports that are much more appropriate than current offerings.

Some advice given to the Government about ASD is inaccurate (see http://a4.org.au/a4/node/458); it may even be misleading. Possibly, officials and consultants bring their own agendas into the advice they provide.

The gap does not just affect people with ASD; a plethora of research shows families of children with ASD also experience bigger gaps. See

Representatives of Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia (A4) respectfully request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience,

yours sincerely

Bob Buckley
Convenor, Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia