Education is the foundation for employment. The abysmal employment outcomes for autistic Australians result from ineffective education.

The ABS reports:

In 2009, 12% of children with autism attended school and did not experience any educational restrictions. Of the remaining 88% who did experience some restrictions, 3% of children were not able to attend school because of their disability and 47% needed to attend either a special class in a mainstream school, or a special school.


In 2018, 92.3% of young people (101,900) aged 5 to 20 years on the autism spectrum attending school had some form of educational restriction (92.3%), including a small number who were unable to attend school because of their disability. Two in five (40.8%) of the children attended a special class in a mainstream school or a special school.

Of the 106,600 young people (aged 5 to 20 years) with autism who were attending school or another educational institution, 77.7% reported experiencing difficulty at their place of learning. Of those experiencing difficulties, the main problems encountered were fitting in socially (59.8%), learning difficulties (55.3%) and communication difficulties (51.5%).

People with autism are less likely than others to complete an educational qualification beyond school and have needs for support that differ from people with other disabilities. Of those with autism, 8.1% had a bachelor degree or higher, compared with 16.1% of those with a disability and 31.2% of those without disability. All people with disability and those with no disability were also more likely to have an Advanced Diploma, Diploma or Certificate III or IV than people with autism.

Key points are that autistic Australians experience:

  • abysmal outcomes in education, both academically and socially
  • life-long unemployment of autistic people is the result of their failed education
  • autistic students experience high and unacceptable levels of bullying and trauma. Their experience impacts on their mental health long-term, especially stress, anxiety, depression, psychosis, self-esteem and poor health generally

While “public education” is state/territory responsibility, the Commonwealth funds the private education sector (which has low participation and poor outcomes from autistic students). The Commonwealth also has obligations to ensure autistic student can access appropriate and effective education.

Many autistic students are simply excluded from NAPLAN so we don’t measure how bad education is for autistic students. Excluding autistic students means their educational progress and outcomes are not measured and reported. Without measurement and reporting, there is no “reason” to try to improve education outcomes for autistic students.

The biggest change seen in recent time are school systems changing their terminology. We see “special education” service and supports being rebranded as “inclusive”, but nothing else changes. If anything, COVID has enabled increasing segregation and decreased attention to the individual needs of diverse students.

Policy goals

  • Improved and more effective education of autistic students (according to measured outcomes) - observable improvement in education measures for autistic people, such as NAPLAN, graduation rates, tertiary education outcomes.
  • Increase tertiary education
  • Improved employment for autistic school leavers