Autism: What we have heard

The Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre has responded to the NDIS Review Committee’s interim report, What we have heard. In responding they draw on evidence from their research and from autistic people.

The report has 29 recommendations that go beyond the NDIS review to all sections of society. The focus is on children – one in ten Australian children are participants in the NDIS. The recommendations are based on providing supports in everyday early childhood settings and with collaboration across governments and community services.

Longer term support needs are minimised if neurodevelopment vulnerability is detected early and community-based supports are put in place.

Front cover in red and white of the What we Have Heard Report.

When setting up the NDIS the Productivity Commission’s assumption was that about 1 in 150 children would need support. Research at that time showed it was closer to 1 in 69. Currently the estimation is 1 in 31 children are autistic. This figure is similar to those in other countries and indicates diagnoses not prevalence. In addition, autistic people are just as likely to have some of the same challenges neurotypical people face. Intersectionality applies here too.

Community supports in everyday settings

With the right community supports, children can make significant developmental gains and increase their chances of participating in mainstream settings. State and local governments should be key players in the quest to include autistic people in community activities, education and employment.

The title of the report is, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre: Response to ‘What we have heard’ report. The research centre is based at La Trobe University. They aim to support autistic people to realise their full potential, and to actively participate in the community.

La Trobe University pioneered an autism screening tool which is used on children as young as 11 months. The SACS-R tool, or Social Attention Communication Surveillance Tool, is based on 15 years of research. Key points are infrequent or inconsistent use of:

  • gestures (waving, pointing)
  • response to name being called
  • eye contact
  • imitaton or copying others
  • sharing interest with others
  • pretend play
A young boy in a white T shirt is pointing at something in the distance. The background shows he is at the coast.

La Trobe University has devised a free app, called ASDetect to help parents detect autism in their child. the App is 83% accurate and is for children from 11 to 30 months.

This research paves the way for more autistic people to participate in everyday life and feel included. The Victorian Government has a state-based autism plan in recognition of the need for community support.

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