November 12, 2008
Queensland health experts are seeking a national register of children with disabilities after claims that children have been wrongly diagnosed as autistic to secure disability funding.
Labor backbencher Dean Wells tabled figures in the Queensland parliament on Tuesday indicating that one in every 50 children in the state was diagnosed as autistic.
The figure, obtained from parliamentary library research of government records, was three times the international average.
Mr Wells said the system of funding for children with disabilities encouraged over-diagnosis.
"Obviously, this staggeringly high rate of diagnosis is not due to the genetic attributes of Queenslanders, but to the willingness of certain medical practitioners, sometimes urged on by parents and teachers, to diagnose autism in order to attract additional resources from Education Queensland for the child," Mr Wells said.
The head of Autism Queensland, Penny Beeston, said she doubted the accuracy of the figures.
She said while there was a problem in the system, it lay in not having national regulation.
Ms Beeston said states needed to adopt the West Australian model of registering disabilities to identify funding priorities.
"When you're looking at any figures published, except for Western Australia, we're working on best guess," she told AAP.
"It's in disarray and always has been.
"If we had a national register that would be ideal, because there'd be none of this second-guessing.
"At the end of the day, we want to see all children in schools, no matter what their disability, have access to the appropriate supports to allow them to become successful learners and to emerge from school and become integrated into our society."
Royal Children's Hospital director of community and child health Neil Wigg also backed a national register.
"It would ensure ... the support that's required is reaching those who require it - and not other people," Dr Wigg told AAP.
"So I think it's important we do have a clear number about how many children, and that we do have a clear set of criteria (for diagnosis)."
Dr Wigg said he understood the rates of autism in Queensland were no higher than in any other state.
Autism is a neuro-developmental disability that has no known cause.
© 2009 AAP