This is a special Update for A4 members about progress on the National Autism Strategy and to encourage as much participation as possible from the autistic and autism sectors (which includes you).
National Autism Strategy
The federal government's National Autism Strategy (NAS) is A4's biggest news and challenge at this time.
The process is now underway - see https://a4.org.au/node/2527. The call for expressions of interest from the autistic and autism sectors have been issued. Please people, take a look and consider how you can contribute to creating an effective National Autism Strategy. The process needs great representation from the sectors on an Oversight Council and four working groups.
I expect that later on people will be asked about what needs to be in the strategy. Please start thinking seriously about what needs to be said and done.
In 2022, the Senate Select Committee on Autism inquiry produced its report that strongly recommended the government develop a NAS. In the last federal election the major parties each committed to implement a NAS. It is now up to the ALP, who won the election, to deliver on their commitment.
A4 is working closely with the Australian Autism Alliance and its other members to ensure the NAS achieves as much as possible for autistic people and their associates (families, carers, and other supports).
In the first federal budget after the election a small amount of money1 was allocated to the development of the NAS, with most of the money going to the Department of Social Services (DSS) to lead and manage NAS development. Some of the money went the DoHA which was useful since they had already started work.
The webpage says:
Development of the Strategy will be informed by the experiences of autistic people and their families and carers. The department will undertake a comprehensive national consultation process involving:
- autistic people and families
- the autism sector
This will help to ensure the voices of autistic people and the wider community are heard.
The Strategy will be a whole-of-life plan for all Australians with autism – not just those eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) – and will work alongside the approach for an Early Years Strategy and our ongoing implementation of Australia’s Disability Strategy to drive concerted, joined up action.
DSS staff must recognise that the need for the NAS arose because both Australia’s Disability Strategy (ADS) and DSS's Early Years Strategy simply failed to address adequately the challenge that increasing autistic diagnoses present to governments in Australia, and that existing disability policy and programs do not meet the needs of autistic Australians. Many of the issues and challenges were spelled out in the Senate's Autism Inquiry report.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for government officials who are involved in NAS development is to appreciate that the diverse autism sector needs a comprehensive and diverse strategy. The "autism sector" has highly varied, sometimes conflicting, views of what is needed and what must be done. The challenge for the people involved and representative organisations contributing to NAS development is to respect and advocate for all the varied needs of autistic people and the autism sector more generally.
The NAS needs to be comprehensive. The areas that it needs to address include (but are not limited to):
- diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (Health - federal and state/territory)
- early intervention for autistic children (NDIS)
- primary and secondary education (states & territories)
- tertiary education both for autistic people and for clinicians and disability workforce
- accommodation - Supported Disability Accommodation (SDA) and Supported Independent Living (SIL)
- Australia's Injustice (legal) Systems
- social security and carer supports
- disability advocacy for autistic people and their associates
- the role of and support for carers
- workforce planning for the disability sector
- research, data collection and reporting
- ... and much more.
Please share this information about the NAS as widely as you can. And think about what you need the NAS to deliver, then how you will have your say in the development of the NAS.
A4 is involved in the NAS development process. And we are keen to hear from people who want to be involved. Please let us know of your interest.
1 The media release, budget papers and DSS webpage suggest the amount is $5.3million. We cannot consider the $2m for an early childhood centre in Townsville, while extremely valuable for the region, to be part of developing a NAS.