An inquiry into services for people with autism spectrum disorder is calling for submissions from the public, and Bendigo autism advocate Rebecca Kelly has outlined her concerns.
Our kids grow up into adults and we're going to really need to get that support happening.Rebecca Kelly, autism advocate
Ms Kelly's eight-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism four years ago and her son, who is now six, was diagnosed a year later.
"You are born with it; there are some people who believe it's environmental," she said.
"In my family it's genetic. I'm autistic, I think my husband is autistic, my children are autistic, I have cousins who are on the spectrum who have autistic children as well."
Her personal experience with autism has led Ms Kelly to become an advocate for autistic children and their families in the Bendigo region.
She said the upcoming inquiry by the Family and Community Development Committee was long overdue, especially in regards to services and educational support for people with autism.
Widespread abuse in the sector
In Ms Kelly's advocacy work with families she has encountered widespread abuse, which she defines as restrictive practices and seclusion.
"When I talk about restrictive practices — knocking kids to the ground and locking them in rooms and using martial arts techniques like pressure points and placing children in cage-like structures," she said.
We need to really, really focus on the training and what does that look like?Rebecca Kelly, autism advocate
Ms Kelly said it was a systemic problem that was not isolated.
"What happened in Canberra, tip of the iceberg. It's happening here and all around Australia," she said.
Ms Kelly is hoping a royal commission goes ahead, after a recent Senate report into the treatment of children with a disability in institutional and residential settings found widespread abuse.
She said the root cause of a lot of abuse was lack of training, and she was hoping for increased training for staff working in schools and residential care services.
Ms Kelly said as a community everybody needed to speak out against the abuse they witnessed.
"Take that chance because you could be the reason that it stops for other children," she said.
Lack of training for staff
Ms Kelly said there was a lack of qualified staff working as aides in schools.
"You can walk off the street and get a job as an aide in any of our schools," she said.
Ms Kelly does concede there are courses available, but said students in those courses did not receive the same rotation as students studying teaching degrees.
Instead, she would like to see more evidence-based training to be implemented in schools and service providers.
These would include functional behavioural assessments, with more focus on training for specialist staff, especially educational support staff working in disability housing and day services.
"We need to really, really focus on the training and what does that look like?" Ms Kelly said.
"Does it look like a TAFE course, where you learn everything from a blackboard, or does that look like possibly a one-year university degree with on-the-job training getting that lived experience?"
Where are the services?
Ms Kelly said services for children under seven were funded under the Helping Children with Autism funding package, but in many regional areas there was still a lack of available services.
Then when you talk about teenagers and adult support services, there is nothing.Rebecca Kelly, autism advocate
"Here in Bendigo we have a handful of services available for occupational therapy and speech therapy," she said.
Ms Kelly said the one psychologist they did have access to had since moved to Woodend, more than 80 kilometres away.
"But his books are closed, so they are going as far as the Royal Children's Hospital [in Melbourne] to get that funded therapy," she said.
"For some people, that is completely out of reach."
For those over seven, Ms Kelly said the funding cut out.
"You're left with out of pocket expenses that are enormous, or a huge wait list for public services, and the list is getting longer and longer," she said.
"Then when you talk about teenagers and adult support services, there is nothing.
"Our kids grow up into adults and we're going to really need to get that support happening."
Despite being optimistic about the increased funding being available with the rollout of the National Insurance Disability Scheme (NDIS) for Bendigo and central Victoria in 2017, Ms Kelly is concerned there will not be enough services.
Submissions are due by Friday, March 18.