By convenor |
Subject: DSS needs to better understand autism in Australia
Date: Fri, 2 Dec 2022 17:39:39 +1100
From: Bob Buckley (A4 Convenor) <>

Dear Minister The Hon A. Rishworth MP

Thank you for your interest in Ensuring people living with disability have the support they need.

I notice that your media release says:

Autism Spectrum Australia and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute indicate at least 1 in 100 Australian children are being diagnosed with autism.

Autism numbers for Australian children are far higher than this. Currently, over 3% of children aged 7 to 14 years in Australia are NDIS participants with autism described as their primary disability type. The rate varies substantially between states and territories: it's 6% in Victoria and 5% in South Australia. At 34% of NDIS participants, autism emerged surprisingly as the biggest primary disability in the NDIS roll-out: it is far more than the 9-11% that was originally expected. And many autistic children are are not eligible as NDIS participants.

Rates far higher than 1% have also been observed in Centrelink's Carer Allowance (child) data for years. The rate reported for autistic children by the Australian Bureau of Statistics from its 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) was also above 3% and rising.

Please understand that part of the reason "autistic people experience some of the poorest outcomes of any group living with disability" is that people responsible for disability strategy and policy simply fail to appreciate and address the nature and significance of the challenge that autism has become.

The five test cases in your Department's National Disability Data Asset (NDDA) webpage are further examples of severe information failure. Apparently, in most of these "autism" is classified under "intellectual disability" ... which is just wrong. The Education to Employment test case, the NDDA Pilot for South Australian (SA) students, says there are 1,704 autistic students (see Table 4). NDIS data shows there were 9,783 autistic NDIS participants in South Australia at 30/6/2022 aged 7 to 14 years. We expect there are a number of non-participants in SA's schools as well as a number of autistic children who cannot attend school.

The mention of autism in the NDDA mental Illness test case doesn't accord with other research.

These discrepancies in data indicate that your Department needs to better understand autism in Australia if you want to deliver better outcomes for autistic Australians. Autism is a far more challenging that your Department seems to appreciate. And the National Autism Strategy will need more resources than the $3.3m1 that has so far been allocated.

The number of Australians who are recognised as autistic has grown substantially over the last two decades. Australia needs a National Autism Strategy because Australia's Disability Strategy (like the NDS 2010-20 before it), a DSS responsibility, failed autistic Australians.  Autism awareness and understanding in government, especially in DSS, need to catch up.

Australia certainly needs to invest "in better support for people with autism through a National Autism Strategy", as you indicate. As you suggest, well considered investment in improving outcomes for autistic Australians "will have broader economic and social benefits".

1 a $2m early intervention centre in Townsville is a good thing but calling it part of a National Autism Strategy is a stretch.


Bob Buckley
Convenor, Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia (A4)

Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia, known as A4, is the national grassroots organisation advocating for autistic people, their families, carers and associates. A4 is internet based so that Australians anywhere can participate.
Note for politicians and bureaucrats – Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia's policy on unanswered questions is available at

A4 recognises and respects the traditional owners, the elders past, present and emerging of lands in Australia. Sovereignty was never ceded.

“The first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one.” Jeff Daniels as Will McEvoy in The Newsroom.

P.S. the media release misquotes Aspect - their website says 1 in 40 - see