Page 1397 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 10 April 2013

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Debate resumed.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (10.33): I thank Mr Doszpot for bringing this motion on today. I say up-front that I will not be able to support the motion in its current form, but I want to be clear that this is not because I or the Greens do not agree with Mr Doszpot that understanding autism spectrum disorder and providing adequate and specific services for children diagnosed with autism is not important. Rather, it is because of the scale of the policy within the motion and the large cost associated with such a policy. I, for one, think such a shift in the provision of services should be investigated more fully.

I am also loath to support it because I understand the ACT government provides autism-specific assessment and support, and I do not know that this motion clearly articulates the gaps that might exist in that service or explores the different ways in which it might be improved. I am especially mindful that supporting a motion that expands the services for people with autism in such a definitive way would occur in the context of the implementation of the national disability insurance scheme. I, for one, would prefer to have more information about how the NDIS might impact on this before we move to change or build on or add to services for children with autism.

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD as it is often called, is primarily a disorder of social communication that is generally identified in young children from around two years of age. There are three primary areas in which children on the autism spectrum have difficulties: social interaction, communication and associated behaviours such as rituals, obsessions and sensory issues. ASD is a development disorder, and I understand many children who are diagnosed make considerable improvements as their language improves and sensory issues diminish.

There are currently no firm conclusions that can be drawn about the cause of ASD and there is no cure as such, but evidence certainly indicates that specific early intervention can bring improvements. There is increasing evidence that the rate of autism is increasing—autism now affects around one in 160 people, with a higher prevalence amongst boys than girls.

ASD or autism is one of those disabilities that we all think we know a little about; it has featured in several movies and people often throw around stereotypical caricatures of those who have autism. I hope that Autism Awareness Week is working to build understanding of those with ASD and how they experience the world. For a young child with ASD the world is a very confusing place—verbal language understanding is poor; the capacity to express oneself is limited and often reduced to lots of tantrums; changes to routines are challenging; noisy environments can be disturbing; and social engagement with other children often just does not happen.

When language emerges it is often in a form that parrots other people’s language but does not quite suit the social context. Language can be understood in a very literal way, and people with this kind of language disorder can miss the nuances, double meanings and colloquialisms that we so frequently use in conversation. Reading emotions in others is something that can continue to be difficult, as can be reading the social cues or context in any situation.

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