By bobb |

Senate Community Affairs Committee



Additional Estimates 2010-2011, 23 February 2011

Question: E11-184

OUTCOME 11: Mental Health


Written Question on Notice

Senator Fierravanti-Wells asked:

The US Centre for Disease Control has suggested there may now be an epidemic of autism.

Please advise:

a) Does DoHA have any information about an epidemic of autism in Australia?

b) What data does DoHA currently collect with regards to surveillance on autism disease prevalence and treatment rates?


a) Autism is generally considered as a pervasive developmental disability and as such is the remit of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). FaHCSIA is the lead agency for the Helping Children with Autism (HCWA) package which provides early intervention and individual assistance packages for children and their families, funding for training teachers and supporting playgroups, and created new items in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). The package commenced in October 2008 and complements existing services provided by state and territories.

The Department does not collect data on autism prevalence. The Department is not aware of any evidence of any major shifts in prevalence of autism in Australia.

b) The Department has Medicare data on the specific MBS items created under the HCWA package. Data on MBS items is available publicly at:…


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Dear The Hon Nicola Roxon MP

I understood from your comment at the GetUp Mental Health Forum at Parliament House that you would like to meet to discuss health issues relating to autism spectrum disorders (ASD). As I live in Canberra, I can meet you at Parliament House whenever it is convenient for you. Can I call your staff to schedule a meeting?

You may recall that at the forum Professor Ian Hickie expressed concern about a response from the Health Department relating to autism. In February, Senator Fierravanti-Wells asked the attached question. The Department's answer causes my organisation, Autism Asperger Advocacy Australia (A4), considerable concerned. We would like to discuss our concerns with you.

A4 suggests ...

  1. the Australian Government should acknowledge that the US Government is very concerned by the substantial increase in diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders over the last 20 years ... and that the CDC reports "It is estimated that ... an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have an ASD." (see
  2. autism is not "generally considered as a pervasive developmental disability", it is classified formally as a "pervasive developmental disorder" -- and the difference between "disability" and "disorder" is crucial.
  3. the Department should collect data and understand thoroughly the item ranked 2nd in the AIHW's burden of disease and injury for boys (8th on the list for girls); it should be deeply embarrassed that it does not collect data (directly or indirectly) on autism/ASD.
  4. the Department should be aware, and it is disgraceful that the Health Department is (proudly?) unaware, of the substantial evidence of autism/ASD prevalence in Australian children increasing at around 15% per year (ASD prevalence in Australian children doubles every 5 years).
  5. that the website the Department referred the Senator to is either extremely difficult to navigate to, or just does not give, data on "surveillance on autism disease prevalence and treatment rates" as the Department claims.
  6. the Government's "experts" who are not aware of autism-related evidence, have not collected autism-related data and have spent their entire careers not treating ASD are not providing the best advice on autism/ASD.

People with ASD, their families and carers need an informed response from the Department of Health and Ageing. We have data and evidence that can inform the Government. We have practical and affordable suggestions about what the Government can do to improve outcomes for people with ASD and the community as a whole. We would be delighted to share our suggestions.

yours sincerely
Bob Buckley
A4 Convenor
mobile: 04xx xxx xxx