The development of South Australia’s autism strategy will help make the invisible “visible”, according to an occupational therapy lecturer.
The South Australian government closed submissions for its discussion paper on its first autism strategy earlier this week.
The state government noted that autistic people have a suicide rate of nine times the general population, are half as likely to finish year 10 as the general population and are three times more likely to be unemployed than other people with a disability.
“Members of the autistic and autism communities have shared how access to support is crucial and can change lives; however, access to services is often dependent on a diagnosis and those services being affordable, available, and accessible,” the government said.
Victoria already has an Autism Education Strategy while the federal government pledged $1 million in the October budget to develop a national autism strategy.
Kobie Boshoff, University of South Australia senior lecturer in occupational therapy, told The Mandarin a reason to have a strategy specific to autism was its invisible nature.
“You can’t look at a child or a person and say: ‘Oh, that person’s got autism’, because it is more behavioural and also a mental health condition,” Boshoff said.
“[This is] versus somebody with a more physical disability that it’s quite obvious [because] that person is in a wheelchair or otherwise.
“It is making that invisible visible by explicitly focusing on their needs.”
For Boshoff, one of the unique aspects of the discussion paper was asking people what was the preferred term: “people with autism” or “autistic people”.
In Australia, the preferred term for someone with a disability is “people with disability”, with the person put first.
“But some people with autism are actually preferring identity first — so, ‘autistic person’ — because they identify so strongly with being neurodiverse and wanting to emphasise that as part of their identity,” Boshoff said.
One topic of the discussion paper focused on access to government services and how it could be more inclusive to people with autism.
From her research, Boshoff found there were barriers to understanding autistic children’s needs in areas such as health and education.
She said children with autism do not understand what medical procedures are about.
She added that parents sometimes decide that taking their autistic child to the doctor is too stressful with the child misbehaving, and end up walking out without getting their health concerns taken care of.
“[It’s] simple things like the environments that children are in, the sensory aspects of those environments, having an example of the procedure shown to the child,” Boshoff said.
“They need a bit more preparation to reduce the anxiety and things like that can be incorporated into health services.”
Overall, the academic said she hopes the autism strategy will lead to “big structural changes, long-term changes”,
“We’re really hoping this is not going to be a quick fix because it seems to be the popular thing or the most current topical thing to do,” Boshoff said.